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Tag Archive: flowers

  1. Late-Winter Garden Flowers for Bees

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    Amur Adonis is a very early bee flower with very showy flowers.

    The late-winter blooms of glistening snowdrops, golden witch hazel or the earliest crocuses are all bee-pollinated. Most of the first American woodland wildflowers are also pollinated by native bees. These pretty flowers are vital early forage for bee populations everywhere, which is why they should be a part of our spring gardens.

    How Honeybees Beat Winter Cold

    Bees are quick to respond to chance warm days in winter when flowers first appear.

    Bees cannot regulate their own body temperature. That means when it’s very warm they are most active, and as temperatures drop, they slow down and become unresponsive. The perfect temperature in a honeybee (Apis mellifera) hive is 95 degrees F, and at just 55 degrees F honeybees can no longer fly well. But, they never go dormant. They have found ways to keep themselves warm in the hive, even on very cold winter days, so they can immediately start flying to find nectar on a chance warm late-winter day when early flowers begin to appear. This helps them supplement waning stores of honey and stave off potential starvation.

    Even on the coldest winter days, the inner cluster of honeybees inside is warm.

    When temperatures drop, honeybees cluster in the hive around the queen. When temperatures head toward freezing, the bees closest to the queen begin to vibrate their wings and abdomens to physically create heat by friction–kind of like rubbing two pieces of wood together to create a fire. The bees on the outside of the cluster huddle tight, and still as insulation. This keeps hive interiors warm and bees ready for action.

    Reflective crocus flowers are actually several degrees warmer inside.

    Spring flowers also help out! Some actually act like little greenhouses and warm up several degrees for bees. These blooms lay low to the ground, face upwards, are reflective, and track or catch the sun, which allows the temperature within each blossom to be a little higher. So, at each visit, the bees warm up a little. These mini-greenhouse flowers include adonis, crocus, and daffodils.

    The First Bee Blooms

    Glory-of-the-snow is beautiful, early garden bulbs for bees.

    Most of these are bulbs and wildflowers, but some bee-favored blooms appear on shrubs. Bees are most attracted to fragrant flowers with blooms or nectar guides of yellow, blue, or ultraviolet shades. That’s why so many bee flowers are yellow or blueish-purple. (Click here to learn more about the flower cues that attract bees and other pollinators).

    Late-Winter Bee Flowers

    The pollen of blue Siberian squill flowers is also blue.

    The small, bright yellow blooms of Amur Adonis (Adonis amurensis, Zones 3-7) are some of the first garden flowers to appear, sometimes flowering as early as January during warmer winters. Their clear, golden flowers have many petals, reach just several inches high, and rise above attractive ferny foliage. The leaves will disappear a couple of months after flowering. Winter aconite (Eranthus hyemalis, Zones 3-7) is similar, but it only reaches a few inches, has fewer gold petals, and naturalizes over time. Plant very early daffodils (Narcissus hybrids, Zones 4-8), such as ‘Jetfire’ and ‘February Gold’, alongside these and look for bees on their sun-drenched blossoms.

    The buttercup-yellow blooms of winter aconite stand on 3- to 4-inch plants.

    Many little blue bulbs (4 to 8 inches) are all charming, naturalize, and provide essential bee forage in January, February, or March, depending on your zone. Siberian squill (Scilla siberica, Zones 2-8) with its nodding little bells of the richest violet-blue, has equally blue pollen, which is a fun site to see on a bee pollen basket. The flowers of glory-of-the-snow (Chionodoxa luciliae, Zones 3-8) look a little similar, but they are infused with white, upward facing, a little larger, and have yellow pollen. The even larger flowered Jessie spring starflower (Ipheion ‘Jessie’, Zones 5-9) is a bit taller (8 to 12 inches) and has the deepest blue starry flowers and looks very pretty alongside classic, super fragrant, violet-purple grape hyacinth (Muscari armeniacum, Zones 4-8), which blooms in earliest spring. (Click here to read more about grape hyacinths.) Plant all of these among the violet-blue, pink, or white daisy-like flowers of Grecian windflower (Anemone blanda, Zones 5-8) and woodland crocus (Crocus tommasinianus, Zones 3-8), which all bloom at the same time and attract bees just as powerfully

    Snowdrops can appear as early as late December or early January when winters are mild.

    White, nodding snowdrops (Galanthus spp.) of all kinds bloom as early as December or January during very mild winters and attract bees to their sweetly scented flowers in flight. The simple, easy bulbs naturalize in small sweeps and resist late snowfall with ease.

    Native bees rely on the numerous bloom of spring beauties, a North American wildflower.

    Some North American native spring wildflowers are essential for native bees. Spring beauties (Claytonia virginica, Zones 3-8) with their tiny pink and white striated flowers, are some of the most important. They create vast sweeps of tiny flowers that bloom in the latest months of winter. The feathery-leaved Dutchman’s breeches (Dicentra cucullaria, Zones 3-7) is another, which has delicate stems dotted with little v-shaped flowers of white. Early bumblebees find them irresistible. The yellow-flowered American trout lily (Erythronium americanum, Zones 3-8) with its flared, yellow, lily flowers and spotted foliage, is another to draw many early bees.

    Late-Winter Bee Shrubs

    The strong scent of witch hazel flowers attracts bees on mild winter days.

    Hybrid winter witch hazel (Hamamelis x intermedia, Zones 5-8) has the most exciting varieties to offer with flowers of yellow, orange, or rusty red. Even though they often bloom in January or early February, bees are drawn to their highly fragrant flowers. Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas, Zones 4-8) has a comparable habit, golden flowers, and bloom time with the added benefit of edible fruits in summer, which are relished by birds. The common Forsythia (Forsythia x intermedia, Zones 5-8) is another first-bloomer for bees that is easy to grow if given lots of sunlight. Their golden flowers are well-known and admired.

    The golden flowers of Cornelian cherry are a favorite of bees.

    All of these shrubs can be planted in fall or spring and appreciate a good helping of Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost amended into the backfill at planting time.

    Even a few of these flowers will make your winter landscape glow with color. And, the fact that they are some of the first flowers to feed bees makes them that more desirable and welcoming in the garden.

    Trout lily (Erythronium americanum) is an especially pretty American wildflower for bees.
  2. Vegetable Companion Plants that Repel Insect Pests

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    Vegetable gardens with a good mix of companion plants can perform better.

    Some attractive and useful companion plants really do help ward off certain insect pests from specific crops. Plant these companions in quantity, and they can serve to reduce the populations of common insect pests of vegetables.

    Research has shown that some companion plantings reduce the number of insect pests that attack vegetable crops. Some companion plants are trap crops that attract insect pests, luring them away from your favorite vegetables. Others are insect-repelling companion plants that produce aromatic chemicals that some pests dislike.

    Trap crops take up a lot of space and are not practical for most home gardeners, while desirable repellant plants are more viable to grow. These are the plants covered. Companion with some value to gardeners, in addition to protective properties, are a win-win.

    Insect-Repelling Companion Plants

    Note that repelling plants will never totally protect vegetables from the pests that attack them, but they can reduce the number of pests. Here are a few good examples of protective plants (mostly herbs) and the pests they repel.

    Basil

    Purple Opal and Italian Genovese basils are both good choices for planting around tomatoes.

    A few key culinary herbs have been shown to offer repellent protection to specific veggies. One of these is everyone’s favorite herb, basil. Research has shown that rows of tall basil (Ocimum basilicum) around tomatoes can reduce the number of tomato hornworms on tomatoes and eggplant. Tomato hornworms are very damaging, defoliating tomatoes in no time. They are also so large, they are very unpleasant to kill.

    Basil also wards off thrips from developing flowers and other plant tissues. The little insect pests suck juices from flowers, fruits, and leaves causing ugly mottled spots.

    Good basil varieties for the task include the tall, Italian Genovese basil, purple ‘Opal basil, hybrid lemon basil (Ocimum × africanum), and beautiful ‘Pesto Purpetuo‘ basil, which is tall, highly fragrant, non-blooming, and has beautiful variegated leaves.

    Catnip

    Catnip (Nepeta cataria) can reduce damage by flea beetles, a pest that attacks eggplant, brassicas ( like collards, cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower), tomatoes, and other common crops. There is also some evidence that it wards off cabbage loopers, which also attack brassicas. A series of predating beetles, including Colorado potato beetles, cucumber beetles, and Japanese beetles, which can attack okra and beans, are also repelled. Squash bugs also avoid these plants.

    Another benefit of catnip is that it repels mosquitoes very well.

    Chives and Onions

    Chives taste great and have protective properties against cabbage moths and aphids.

    Chives, leeks, and onions (Allium spp.) are welcome additions to any garden and some vegetable pests really dislike them. The pests they deter include damaging moths (like cabbage moths), aphids, and spider mites. All three of these pests attack a wide host of vegetable plants, such as brassicas, beans, and squash, so a border of chives or onion relatives can really help in the garden.

    Evergreen Culinary Herbs

    Rosemary offers good protection against carrot flies.

    There is a host of favorite culinary evergreen herbs that repel certain pests from brassicas. Many of hese effective herbs in the mint family. This should come as no surprise because they are all strongly aromatic and resinous, which is why they tend to have few to no insect predators. Three of the best include sage (Salvia officinalis), rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), and thyme (Thymus vulgaris).

    Sage has been shown to protect brassicas from cabbage moths as well as carrots, parsley, and parsnips from carrot flies. Rosemary also protects against carrot flies in addition to snails and slugs. Finally, whiteflies, which damage the foliage and overall health of many crops, disfavor thyme.

    Daisy-Family Herbs

    Chamomile makes delicious tea and provides brassicas some protection from cabbage loopers.

    Strongly aromatic herbs in the daisy family can really pack a punch against pests. Some are very large, so they need space to grow, but they are reliable companions to many vegetables.

    From spring to midsummer, chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile) shines in the garden providing some protection to brassicas from cabbage loopers. The dried flowers of chamomile can also be used to make a flavorful, soothing tea.

    Marigolds of all kinds help ward off a serious underground pest of tomatoes, tomato root-knot nematodes.  These attack the roots of tomatoes, stunting the plants and reducing their productivity. Planting tomatoes and marigolds in rotation from year to year can help keep these pests away. (Click here to learn more about marigolds and root-knot nematodes.)

    Wormwood is a big, silvery shrub-like perennial that protects against flea beetles and many other pests. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    Even more effective members of this family include the non-culinary, herbs wormwood (Artemisia absinthium), the herb used to make absynthe, southernwood (Artemisia abrotanum), and tansy (Tanacetum vulgare). All are strongly fragrant and have been shown to reduce damage by flea beetles, a pest that attacks eggplant, brassicas, tomatoes, and other common crops. Southernwood and wormwood also protect against cabbage loopers and cabbage butterflies. And, Japanese beetles and Colorado potato beetles don’t like tansy.

    One downside to these three non-culinary repellent plants in the daisy family is that they tend to spread and become weedy. So, be sure to clip back their flowers to keep them from setting seed.

    In general, herbs grow best in fertile to semi-fertile soil enriched with compost. Companion plantings are most effective if you plant them in rows or rings surrounding the vegetables that you want to protect. And, if you plant favorite culinary herbs, you can harvest and enjoy these as well.

  3. Luscious Lilies of Late Summer

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    Tiger lilies (Lilium lancifolium) are spectacular tall bloomers that appear in late summer. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    Most gardens can use a visual lift in the dog days of late summer.  This is where late-blooming lilies come in.  When their voluptuous, often deliciously scented blooms make their grand entrance in July and August, it’s like a royal fanfare in the landscape.  Goodbye, garden doldrums.

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  4. Favorite Heirloom Garden Flowers from Seed

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    Heirloom garden flowers are perfect for informal cottage gardens.


    Imagine a sweeping cottage garden of China pinks, petunias, and marigolds interspersed with a tangle of colorful sweet peas and lacy love-in-a-mist. Old fashioned flowers such as these remain in vogue for the same reason our grandmothers grew them. They are lovely, easily grown from seed, and their seeds can be collected from year to year—making them perfect for gardeners on a budget.
    Choice heirloom flowers are brightly colored, long-blooming, and easy to manage. Quite a few have the added bonus of being highly fragrant, because fragrance was considered an important floral trait from Victorian times to the mid-nineteenth century.
    The majority of these flowers are best started indoors from seed at the beginning of the growing season, but several can be started outdoors. Our favorites will be sure to add value to your flower garden and containers this season.

    Top 10 Heirloom Flowers from Seed

    China pinks (Dianthus chinensis)

    These highly fragrant, short-lived perennials thrive where summers are cool and have frilly blooms in shades of red, white, and pink. Most reach a foot in height and are perfect for sunny border edges. Try the lovely Single Flowered Mix from Select seeds with single flowers in mixed colors. Start seeds indoors in February or March. 

    Heliotrope (Heliotropium arborescens)

    These bushy, sun-loving bedding plants reach 2 to 3 feet and develop broad clusters of small, sweetly fragrant purple, lavender, or white flowers that attract butterflies. Remove old flower heads for repeat bloom all season. The very old variety ‘Amaretto‘ has pale violet flowers that smell of almonds. Start these from seed indoors in February.
     

    Sweet Pea (Lathyrus odoratus)

    Sweet peas are some of the most fragrant cool-season flowers. The delicate, tendriled vines require light trellising. Long-stemmed clusters of sweet-smelling flowers appear by late spring and are perfect for cutting. The antique ‘Perfume Delight’ is especially fragrant and more heat tolerant than most. Start sweet peas indoors from seed in February or March.
     

    Sweet Alyssum (Lobularia maritima)

    The ever-blooming nature of this small, fragrant garden annual has made it one of the best for border and container edges. It blooms well in both hot and cool weather with clusters of tiny white, pink, or purple flowers. Try the honey-scented Gulf Winds mix from Renee’s Garden Seeds, which has flowers of light pink, rose, lilac, and white. The seeds are very fine, so be sure not to accidentally plant too many when starting them indoors. Start these no later than March.

    Marigolds (Tagetes hybrids)

    Loads of warm-hued heirloom marigolds are still available to brighten contemporary flower beds. These tough sun lovers shine through the most difficult summers, keeping gardens looking good through the swelter. For garden edges, choose the 1903 heirloom French Marigold ‘Legion of Honor’. Its fragrant flowers are dark orange with gold edges. Small-flowered signet marigolds are also uncommonly showy with their ferny foliage and bushy habits. Plant seeds in March for late-May planting.

    Jasmine-Scented Tobacco (Nicotiana alata)

    The white blooms of jasmine-scented tobacco are most fragrant at night and pollinated by moths. The tubular flowers appear on plants reaching 3 to 4 feet high. This heat tolerant annual will tolerate some shade and will bloom well into fall. High Mowing Organic Seeds sells seeds for this old-fashioned beauty. Cut back the old flower stalks to encourage flowering. Start the seeds indoors no later than March. (Image by Carl E. Lewis)

    Love-in-a-Mist (Nigella damascena)

    Unusual lacy flowers make love-in-a-mist especially charming in the garden. The flowers may be violet-blue, purple, white, or pink. Once they have finished flowering, their dry seed pods are also visually interesting and useful in dried arrangements. They do tend to self-sow, so expect lots of seedlings to appear the following season. They flower best in cool weather and are short-lived, so they can be started both in early spring and late summer for two seasons of bloom.

    Old-Fashioned Petunia (Petunia hybrid)

    Heirloom petunias tend have looser habits that require regular pruning, but they are also charming and free-flowering. One of the most unique of the seed-grown heirlooms is ‘Old-Fashioned Climbing‘. This pretty rambler has highly fragrant flowers in shades of purple, lavender, and white that bloom above the foliage. Start the seeds no later than March for summer enjoyment.

    Scarlet Sage (Salvia spendens)

    Older varieties of scarlet sage are taller and bushier but no less free flowering. The tall and elegant ‘Van Houttei’ is one of the earliest cultivated forms. The bushy 3- to 4-foot variety thrives in heat and becomes covered with spikes of deep red blooms that attract the hummingbirds. Pinch back spent flowering stems to encourage more flowers! Start the seeds in February or March.
     

    Growing Heirlooms from Seed

    Some heirlooms, such as love-in-a-mist, can be directly sown in the ground outdoors, but most are best started indoors. Start your seeds in seed trays fitted with six-pack flats, which give growing flowers enough space for root and shoot growth. Fill the flats with premium OMRI Listed Black Gold Seedling Mix, which holds moisture and drains well.  Moisten the mix before planting for easier watering after planting. If planting your new seedlings in containers, choose Fafard Ultra Container Mix with Extended Feed, which feeds flowers for up to 6 months.
    Follow seed packet instructions for planting guidelines and expected germination times. Smaller seeds usually need to be lightly covered with mix while larger seeds require deeper planting. Plant each cell with two to three seeds to make sure you get at least one seedling per cell. You only want one seedling per cell, so pinch out the weakest seedlings that germinate and leave the largest. Seeds often sprout best in temperatures between 68-73º F. Warm-season annuals germinate faster if flats are placed on heat mats.
    Good light is important for strong growth. You can either start your seeds in a sunny, south-facing window of beneath strip shop lights fitted with broad-spectrum bulbs. One shop light will supply light to two trays. Keep trays 4 inches from the grow lights to keep seedlings from getting leggy. Raise the lights as your plants grow. Once seedlings develop new leaves, feed them with half-strength Proven Winners Premium Water Soluble Plant Food.
    Before planting your tender heirloom flower starts outdoors, acclimate them to the natural sunlight and wind by placing them in a protected spot with partial sun for one week. This process of “hardening off” allows indoor-grown starts to toughen up before outdoor planting. After this step, they will be ready to plant in your garden or containers.

  5. 3 Steps to Growing Great Roses (With No Fuss)

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    Strike it Rich® is a glorious grandiflora with exceptional disease resistance. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    Got rose problems? Over 20 common pests and diseases plague roses, threatening the beauty of many a rose-filled yard and garden. But, rose growers can take heart. You can have the beauty of roses without the burden of doing constant battle with pests and diseases.  It all comes down to choosing resistant varieties and giving them the right care. Here are the three key steps to growing great roses without the fuss.

    1) Pick a winner.

    This is the most important step! Old roses are often the most fragrant and beautiful, but they are more often maintenance nightmares. Classic Hybrid Tea and Grandiflora (and other) rose varieties were bred for their voluptuous, iconic flowers, with little consideration for the plants’ overall vigor and disease resistance.  Consequently, they’re susceptible to a slew of diseases including blackspot, powdery mildew, and stem cankers.  They’re also easy marks for rose chafers, Japanese beetles, rose slugs, and a host of other insects that prey on roses.

    ‘Carefree Beauty’ is a wonderful shrub rose that will resist many common rose diseases. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    In recent years, breeders have developed and introduced new hybrids that resist diseases and pests.   Most familiar of these are a number of “landscape” roses (such as the Knockout series) noted for their tough shrubby growth and abundant, relatively small, typically scentless flowers.  Rose fanciers who are looking for something with taller stems and larger, more fragrant blooms will also find plenty of low-maintenance roses to choose from, however – including several Hybrid Tea and Grandiflora cultivars that rival anything in their class.  Notable sources – and cultivars – include:

    The German firm Kordes:  Their Grandiflora rose ‘Eliza’ produces a succession of lightly fragrant, double pink blooms on tall stems.  The repeat-blooming climber ‘Moonlight’ carries nicely scented peachy-yellow flowers.  ‘Yankee Doodle’ is a tall, vigorously growing Hybrid Tea with intensely fragrant, double, apricot-pink roses.

    Rosa PINK KNOCK OUT® is a classic, disease-free Knock Out rose planted for its strong disease resistance. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    The Explorers Hybrids from Canada:  This collection of rock-hardy roses includes the Rosa rugosa hybrid ‘Jens Munk’, which bears 2.5-inch, double, medium-pink flowers on shrubby plants.  It also includes several outstanding, repeat-blooming climbers.  ‘William Baffin’ produces several flushes of dark pink flowers beginning in late June, and ‘John Cabot’ covers itself with double, fuchsia-red flowers from early summer to fall.  Both can grow to 10 feet or more.

    The Iowa breeder Griffith Buck:  Among his many outstanding introductions are the pink-flowered Hybrid Tea ‘Earth Song’, and the shrub rose ‘Carefree Beauty’, with large pink flowers.
    Weeks Roses: Many Weeks introductions are graced with fine fragrance, good looks, and remarkable disease resistance. The introduction Strike it Rich®, bred by Tom Carruth, is a testament to their rose-breeding prowess.

    Rosa rugosa ‘Hansa’ is a tough rugosa rose that grows well in coastal gardens. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    Anything of Rosa rugosa parentage: These rough and tough roses include the bright pink ‘Hansa’, dark red ‘Linda Campbell’, bright yellow ‘Topaz Jewel’, and the intensely fragrant, white-flowered ‘Blanc Double de Coubert’.

    The French rose breeder Meilland:   ‘Francis Meilland’ is a Hybrid Tea with double, silvery pink roses on tall stems.  The similarly hued double flowers of the Grandiflora ‘Mother of Pearl’ have a light, sprightly scent.  Dark red, heavy-scented, fully double flowers crown the 4- to 5-foot stems of the Hybrid Tea rose‘Traviata’.

    2) Choose the right soil and the site.

    Roses thrive in full sun and rich, healthy, humus-rich soil.  Before you plant your rose, amend the soil with Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost. It adds rich organic matter for increased water-holding capacity and porosity. Follow up by adding fertilizer formulated for roses. This will encourage strong growth and flowering.
    Ample air circulation helps too.  Plant your prize rose in a hole that’s at least twice as wide as its root ball, and amend the backfill and surrounding soil with compost and organic fertilizer.  Then apply a 1- to 2-inch layer of mulch to keep the roots moist and cool (and keep the soil microorganisms happy!).  Plants should be well spaced to allow air flow.

    3) Maintain!

    If you see rose rosette “witches brooms” remove your roses. There is no cure for this contagious disease. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    Prune out all diseased growth in spring and throughout the growing season (dip pruners in a 10% bleach solution to reduce the chance of accidentally spreading disease from rose to rose). Be on particular lookout for the red “witches brooms” that signal the presence of rose rosette disease, a destructive disease for which there is no cure. Roses that have contracted rose rosette disease should be quickly removed from the garden.

    Thin stems in spring and summer to encourage air circulation and discourage diseases.   Tolerate modest insect damage, but treat plants with the appropriate OMRI Listed® insecticide if insects reach high levels.  Rake and remove fallen vegetation, which may harbor disease-causing fungal spores.  Apply rose fertilizer and a layer of compost each spring.  Plant “companion” perennials (such as members of the parsley and daisy families) that harbor beneficial insects.  And remember to water during dry spells!

    The right rose in the right place (with the right maintenance) will provide years of beauty with a minimum of grief.  It will also astonish your acquaintances who think that beautiful roses require lots of care for great looks.

    Rosa ‘Red Cascade’ is a rare old-fashioned miniature climbing rose that is disease resistant and prolific! (Photo by Jessie Keith)

  6. Delicious Gardening with Edible and Ornamental Plants

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    Variegated pineapple sage and golden marjoram will brighten up any landscape while also adding valuable flavor to dishes. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    Gardening with edible and ornamental plants makes gardening a little tastier and more valuable. Not many of us have the time and space for immense ornamental landscapes anymore, but lots of us take great pride in our shrubs, perennials, and annuals.  At the same time, we want to eat better, fresher food, and that urge has led us back to the garden.  Limited space means that we have to grow ornamentals and edibles side-by-side.  Fortunately, it is easy to do, and the results can be just as beautiful as an ornamental-only landscape.

    For most of horticultural history, average people grew food from necessity, with little thought to purely ornamental plants.  Inevitably, though, some gardeners noticed that certain edible plants and herbs sported lovely flowers or foliage that added a dimension to the vegetable garden.  Others even transplanted flowering specimens from the wild into corners of their home vegetable plots.  Eventually, as great civilizations (Egyptians, Ancient Persians, and Greeks) grew wealthy, ornamental gardening came into its own, with immense ornamental landscapes designed, constructed, and documented in detail by artists and writers. Gardeners today are able to take the best from both worlds, mixing the edible and ornamental for increased garden value.

    Feathery fennel is beautiful and tasty. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    Add Ornamental Vegetables

    The vegetable gardener’s mantra—“Grow what you like to eat”—is a good place to start if you have decided to take the plunge and mix some edibles among your ornamental plants.  The feathery fronds of bronze or green fennel make a lovely addition to any garden and also attract swallowtail butterflies, but if you don’t like fennel, growing it may waste space that is better used for other plants.

    Just about everyone loves fresh tomatoes and peppers, which are easy to grow and come in many varieties.  They also thrive under the same conditions as horticultural divas like roses—at least 8 hours of sunlight per day, rich soil and fairly consistent moisture.  The problem is that most tomato plants—especially indeterminate types that keep growing and producing all season–need some kind of support.  Typical wire tomato cages are not the loveliest addition to an ornamental garden.  Solve the tomato problem by training the plants up a simple bamboo stake or decorative tuteur or trellis that can hold its own among the flowering plants.

    This technique not only makes a virtue out of necessity, but it works for other vining plants like beans, cucumbers, and even squash.  For a lovely garden backdrop, try scarlet runner beans trained up a trellis.  The flowers are a brilliant red and the beans are delicious either raw or cooked.

    Pots of tomatoes and peppers show off the beauty of these valuable garden vegetables.

    For a successful edible/ornamental combination, don’t neglect adequate plant nutrition.  Give both types of plants a good start by enriching your garden soil with a rich soil amendment like Fafard® Garden Manure Blend. Not only will it add needed organic matter for better water-holding capacity, but it will also enrich the soil for better overall performance.

    Add Beautiful Fruits

    If fruit is your idea of the perfect edible crop, and you want a beautiful ornamental plant, try growing blueberries (Vaccinium spp. and cultivars).  These shrubs feature lovely pinkish-white, bell-shaped flowers in the spring, followed by neat, green oval-shaped leaves.  The tasty blue fruits appear in early summer and scarlet leaves announce the arrival of fall.  Blueberries like the same acid soil as rhododendrons and azaleas and would complement them well in a mixed shrub or shrub/perennial border.  Smaller varieties can even be grown in containers and can hold their own among the pots of geraniums and snapdragons on a porch or terrace.  The same holds true of strawberries, with their white flowers and brilliant red fruits, grown in the pockets of decorative ceramic or terra cotta strawberry pots.

    Blueberries are attractive, fruitful garden shrubs. Their fall foliage turns scarlet for a late-season show!

    Add Ornamental Herbs

    Herbs have long been used as ornamentals.  Purple basil makes a dramatic edging plant at the front of a border and would provide a perfect complement to red/orange marigolds or late summer dahlias.  The strong aroma of the basil also helps deter garden varmints like rabbits and deer.  Pineapple sage, with its variegated leaves, makes a lovely filler for a pot of flowering annuals.  The leaves are also the perfect enhancement for a glass of lemonade.

    Purple-flowered cinnamon basil is a dramatic beauty that looks pretty in edible and ornamental borders. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    If your ornamental landscape is mature and already filled with plants, look for “holes” where you can install a few ‘Bright Lights’ chard plants or fill in with low-growing herbs like thyme.  Start small, with a few edibles and then, when the “grow your own” bug bites, increase the number of edibles.  You will be amazed at how well it all fits together.

    Bright Lights chard mingles with Profusion zinnias in this edible and floral border. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

  7. New Garden Flowers for 2017

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    20-13-Cosmos-bipinnatus-Cupcakes

    Cosmos ‘Cupcakes’ is a hot new introduction for 2016. (Image care of Fleuroselect)

    People who believe there is nothing new under the sun have never looked at spring garden catalogs.  Every year plant retailers bombard gardeners with pages of the new and different—or at least the slightly new and the somewhat improved.  2017 is no exception.

    51098-PK-P1 (1)

    Cosmos ‘Xanthos’ (image care of Fleuroselect)

    Familiar themes abound—color is king, with variegated or uniquely colored foliage augmenting floral displays.  Rebloom leads the roster of “most desirable traits” for both perennials and annuals.  Old standbys have shrunk into compact sizes that are perfect for containers and smaller garden spaces. Stalwarts, like cosmos and sunflowers, appear in new blossom shapes and colors, allowing plant lovers to set off a few garden fireworks without burning down the establishment.

    New Flower Forms

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    Echinacea PUFF™ Vanilla (Image care of Terra Nova Nurseries)

    Fleuroselect, the international organization for the ornamental plant industry, dubbed 2016-2017  “The Year of the Cosmos”.  Several of these come in brazen new forms. Of these, the double white Cosmos bipinnatus ‘Mini Click White’ won the coveted Fleuroselect Novelty award for 2017. Even more striking is Cosmos bipinnatus ‘Cupcakes’, which has cupped petals that resemble cupcake papers of white and pale pink.  The seed-grown ‘Cupcakes’ have variable flowers that sometimes have an extra row of smaller inner petals. Another unique Cosmos for the market is the Fleuroselect Gold Medal winner ‘Xanthos’, which not only has uniquely colored pale-yellow flowers but a compact habit and good performance.

    The familiar perennial coneflower takes on a new floral appearance with the domed, fully double Echinacea PUFF™ Vanilla, an ivory-flowered hybrid new for 2017 that blooms throughout summer with double anemone-type blooms. The Terra Nova Nurseries introduction also boasts a compact habit.

    New Compact Flowers

    Agastache_Acapulco_Deluxe_Rose

    Agastache Acapulco Deluxe® Rose (Image care of GreenFuse Botanicals)

    Agastache, or hummingbird mint, has proved to be a favorite perennial for attracting hummingbirds to its colorful, reblooming flowers.  Many good varieties have appeared on the market, but diminutive cultivars in the Acapulco Deluxe® series stand out, with the brightest being Acapulco Deluxe® Rose. It offers vibrant flowers of deepest rose (orange in bud) on fragrant, compact, container-friendly plants reaching 12 inches tall and wide. The plants are also heat and drought tolerant!

    Another tough perennial now available in a more manageable size is Blue Jean Baby Russian sage (Perovskia atricplicifolia ‘Blue Jean Baby’) features gray-green, aromatic, deer-resistant foliage and relatively short stature (2 feet), which can be further controlled by cutting plants back after they bloom.

    Dianthus-Interspecific-Supra-Pink-F1

    Dianthus Supra Pink F1 (Image care of AAS Winners)

    This year introduces a true reblooming fragrant Dianthus for 2017, Dianthus Interspecific Supra Pink F1! The compact bloomer reaches 10-12 inches and blooms nonstop from spring to fall, no deadheading required. Its outstanding performance awarded it a coveted AAS award for 2017!

    If you decide to grow any of the new, compact annual or perennial varieties in containers, start them off right by filling those pots, window boxes and troughs with quality potting mixes, like Fafard® Ultra Potting Mix with Extended Feed or moisture retentive Fafard® Ultra Container Mix with Extended Feed.

    New Flower Colors

    Plant breeders continue to love bi-colored flowers and peach shades.  A perfect example is Tagetes ‘Strawberry Blonde’, a marigold with the familiar pompom shape and petals blushed salmon pink, with golden overtones.  Like all marigolds, it reblooms throughout the growing season and works equally well in containers and garden spaces of all sizes.  Another peachy bloomer is Viola ‘Mariposa Peach Shades’, an annual pansy adorned with ruffled flowers in the yellow/orange range.  It provides early and late season color that is welcome in climates with cool springs and falls.

    Rainbow-Marcella-3

    Echinacea Butterfly™ Rainbow Marcella (Image thanks to Plants Nouveau)

    The past ten years have seen a stampede of new perennial coneflower introductions.  This year, with peach tones in the ascendant, one of the best is the Plants Nouveau introduction, Echinacea Butterfly™ Rainbow Marcella. Its colorful single flowers have brown cones surrounded by pinkish-peach petals.

    Zinnias have exploded in both popularity and petal count.  One of the most unusual of the new zinnias are those on the Queen Lime Series. The Johnny’s Selected Seeds exclusive Zinnia ‘Queen Lime with Blush’, sports pale pink and lime green petals and a central blotch of maroon.  Like all tall zinnias, it is easy to grow and reaches 30 to 40 inches tall.

    Lisianthus ‘Roseanne II’ (image care of Sakata Seed)

    Lisianthus ‘Roseanne II’ (image care of Sakata Seed)

    The Rose-like lisianthus usually comes in shades of violet-purple and white but the unusual Eustoma grandiflorum ‘Roseanne Deep Brown’ is a remarkable rich purple-brown.  The complex color complements the sun-loving plants that reach 32 inches in height and have great stems for cutting.
    Breeders have had a field day with perennial coreopsis or tickseed in recent years, creating versions of this low-growing perennial that boast larger flowers, more repeat blooms, and a wider color range.  The traditional yellow has been augmented by eye-catching pinks, reds, and bi-colors.  The new Uptick™ Series by Darwin Perennials features three varieties.  ‘Cream’, ‘Yellow and Red’, and ‘Gold and Bronze’.  The last two bear yellow or gold petals with darker red or bronze eye zones.  Shearing after bloom speeds the rebloom cycle for all varieties.

    Annual sunflowers play their own parts in the joyful bi-colored act.  Among them, Helianthus annuus ‘Florenza’ stands out, with pale to medium yellow petal tips giving way to rings or eye zones of dark red that surround the black flower centers.  The stems are short, topping out at about 32 inches tall and the flowers refuse to droop.

    Celosia Asian Garden (image care of AAS Winners)

    Celosia Asian Garden (image care of AAS Winners)

    The unusually bushy feather Celosia ‘Asian Garden’ is another fabulous performer with impressive color that is listed as a 2017 AAS winner. Bred by the Japanese breeding company Murakami Seed, it produces endless plumes of purple-red above purple-leaved plants all summer long, even in the worst heat. Perfect for cutting gardens, it is also drought tolerant.

    New Shade Flowers

    Dicentra_Amore_Pink_1b

    Dicentra ‘Amore Pink’ (Image care of Terra Nova Nurseries)

    Shade gardeners sometimes feel slighted because so many flowering plants love the sun. This year there is a reason to rejoice, as revitalized versions of reliable shade plants strut their stuff in new colors, shapes, and sizes.  Ajuga or bugleweed, a perennial favorite groundcover, loves the shade, doesn’t mind being stepped on and spreads effectively to cover hard-to-cultivate areas.  Breeders have taken ajuga and turned its traditional blue flowers into Ajuga ‘Pink Lightning’, a Sunny Border Nurseries introduction.  Variegated leaves steal the show even after flowers have faded.
    Bleeding heart, or Dicentra, is another spring shade lover, with pendulous heart-shaped flowers and deeply dissected leaves.  Newcomer Dicentra ‘Amore Pink’ has blue-green foliage and large pink “hearts”.  It is also compact–nine inches in height and only 12 inches tall.

    And in the new flower celebration, gardeners should never forget hellebores, which have been all the rage for at least a decade. ‘Dark and Handsome’, a Helleborus orientalis hybrid from the Wedding Party™ Series, offers both unusual color—near black—and numerous large, semi-double flowers.  With consistent moisture and a shady site, these dark-cloaked newcomers will establish themselves as stars of the spring garden party.

  8. "Knitting" Perennials for Textural Flower Gardens

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    Geranium sanguineum ‘John Elsley’ “knitting” into a silvery lungwort. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    Flopping is often frowned upon in the perennial garden (and quickly corrected with bamboo stakes, peasticks, or other mechanisms, if it occurs).  Some perennials, however, make a virtue out of laxity, their trailing growth providing the perfect foil to the upright stems of delphiniums, New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae), and garden phlox (Phlox paniculata).  In flower gardens, as in containers, nothing complements a towering thriller better than a contrasting spiller.

    Natural and OrganicTrailing perennials are especially valuable for their ability to knit together with other garden elements, upright or otherwise.  Mass them at the fringe of a perennial border, and they unify what lies behind them.  Position them near a path or patio, and their tumbling stems interrupt and soften the line between hardscape and softscape.  And they’re literally made for walls, producing cascades of texture and color that bring the landscape alive.
    Margins and walls are not the only places where trailing perennials do their knitting.  They excel at covering the voids left by large perennials that go dormant in early summer, such as oriental poppies (Papaver orientale) and bleeding heart (Lamprocapnos spectabilis).  Many will thread their stems through upright neighboring perennials, intermingling their contrasting foliage and blooms.  Some ground-hugging sprawlers (including creeping thyme, Thymus serpyllum) can even be planted into lawns to form textured, flowering patchworks.

    Here’s a sampling of some of the best of these perennial “knitters”.

    Callirhoe-involucrata

    Winecups (Callirhoe involucrata)

    A native of dry prairies throughout the Central U.S., winecups (Callirhoe involucrata) has just about everything a North American gardener could want, including cold-hardiness (USDA Zones 4-9), drought-tolerance, and a long season of showy blooms. Its lax stems typically form low mats, but will also clamber up neighboring plants or cascade down banks or walls. The bowl-shaped, bright purplish-pink, white-eyed blooms continue for many weeks in summer along new portions of the continually lengthening growth. Several other species of Callirhoe – of various habit – are also well worth growing. All of them prosper in dry habitats.

    Moss phlox (Phlox subulata) is so common as to be dismissed by gardeners who should know better. But, just because a plant species is sold at hardware stores and supermarkets (as well as about every other establishment that deals in plants) doesn’t mean that it’s unfit for sophisticated gardens. Hailing from dry slopes and ledges in the East and Central U.S., this needle-leaved evergreen can’t be beat for draping down a wall, or covering a dry slope, or fronting a xeric perennial planting. Its filigreed foliage would be reason enough to grow it, even if it weren’t also a prolific early-spring bloomer. Gardeners who are put off by brassy-flowered forms of this species have any number of subtler cultivars from which to choose. It’s worth considering for any sunny garden within USDA Zones 3 to 9.

    Phlox subulata 'Fort Hill' (Image by Jessie Keith)

    Phlox subulata ‘Fort Hill’ (Image by Jessie Keith)

    Several trailing bellflowers (Campanula spp.) occur on ledges and embankments in European mountains and take well to similar habitats in gardens.  Among the most vigorous of the lot is Serbian bellflower (Campanula poscharskyana), which in late spring bears starry blue flowers on low, 3- to 4-foot-wide hummocks. The typically sprawling stems will also clamber or drape, given the opportunity. Plants tolerate a wide range of conditions and may become overly rambunctious in moist, fertile soil.  Other bellflowers for edging or walls include Campanula cochlearifolia, C. carpaticaC. garganica, and C. portenschlagiana.

    Also from Europe is another trailing perennial that excels on sunny dry slopes: bloody cranesbill (Geranium sanguineum).  A variable plant, it typically matures into a sprawling, 6- to 10-inch-tall mound of deeply lobed foliage, decked in late spring and summer with magenta, pink, or white, dark-veined flowers.  This hardy (USDA Zones 5 to 9), a durable perennial is perhaps at its best in naturalistic plantings, where it can be allowed to seed around into informal colonies.

    Clematis × durandii (Image by Leonora Enking )

    Clematis × durandii (Image by Leonora Enking)

    An excellent geranium for threading through perennials and shrubs is the Geranium ‘Rozanne’, prized for its early-summer-to-frost bounty of purplish-blue flowers.   This lanky, 2- to 3-footer will also sprawl obligingly across gaps left by early-dormant perennials.

    The legendary garden designer Gertrude Jekyll liked to cover such gaps with the lax, non-climbing growth of, a hybrid between the shrubby Clematis integrifolia and the vining Clematis lanuginosa.  Its toppling, 7-foot stems bear a summer-long succession of large starry violet-blue flowers that resemble those of its vining parent.  Other clematis for this purpose include Clematis recta, a 5-foot, splaying perennial that envelops itself in summer with small fragrant white flowers; and ‘Mrs. Robert Brydon’, another shrub/vine hybrid whose flopping 8-foot stems carry billowing clusters of pale-blue blooms in August and September.

    Hardy perennials for knitting can be planted in fall. Good soil preparation and light mulch will help them become established and protect them through the winter months. Fafard® Premium Natural & Organic Compost should be worked into the soil at planting time and added as a light mulch around newly installed perennials.

  9. Colorful Tropical Hibiscus

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    Hibiscus rosa-sinensis 'Chiffon Breeze' (TRADEWINDS™ CHIFFON BREEZE, TRADEWINDS™ BREEZE SERIES) PP17606 JaKMPM

    Hibiscus rosa-sinensis ‘Chiffon Breeze’


    Giant blooms bursting with color—these make Chinese or Hawaiian hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis) a floral favorite in sizzling summer gardens. Huge variety is another perk of these tried-and-true tropical shrubs. There are literally hundreds of types that come in many floral color variations and sizes. And, their familiar good looks bring to mind Hawaiian shirts, leis, and landscapes. What’s not to love?
    Native throughout tropical Asia, these hibiscus have been bred for centuries for their big, beautiful flowers. Through woody, they are fast growing and ever blooming, making them ideal for large patio containers and bed plantings. Their lush, deep green foliage creates a perfect foil for the big beautiful flowers. Some leaves are even glossy. These plants are only hardy in USDA Hardiness Zones 9-11, which means they will only survive winters in the most southerly regions of the United States. But, they will overwinter well in a sunny, warm indoor location where winters are cold. A bright south-facing window, sun room, or conservatory is perfect.
    Hibiscus rosa-sinensis 'Baja Breeze' (TRADEWINDS™ BAJA BREEZE, TRADEWINDS™ BREEZE SERIES) PP17607 JaKMPM

    Hibiscus rosa-sinensis TRADEWINDS™ BAJA BREEZE


    The flowers are between 4 and 8″ wide and comprised of five large, open petals. The largest varieties are the size of dessert plates. They come in loads of bright, tropical colors to include all shades of pink, red, orange, yellow, and white. Unusual colors, such as near black, gray, and purplish hues are also common. Many blooms are bicolored and tricolored, with radiating rings of bright color. At the center of each bloom is a protruding pistil lined with colorful stamens, which is attractive and interesting in its own right.
    There are literally hundreds of varieties of Hawaiian hibiscus. The International Hibiscus Society has a full register of every type under the sun. Anyone interested in learning more about these beautiful flowers should have a look. The wide ranging varieties give a complete picture of all this plant has to offer. To get a good look at exciting newer, interesting selections, check out the offerings of specialty growers, such as Charles Black’s Hidden Valley Hibiscus. His amazing hibiscus may be just enough to hook you!
    Garden center varieties are often bred for compact habits and high flower production. The Tradewinds varieties are particularly nice, being developed to produce lots of flowers on tidy plants ideal for container growing. Though the plants are small, they always grow and flower best in large containers that allow their roots to spread and easily access water and nutrients. Large containers also need to be watered less often.
    Hibiscus rosa-sinensis 'Erin Rachel' JaKMPM

    Hibiscus rosa-sinensis ‘Erin Rachel’


    Grow these beautiful flowers anywhere there is sun. They prefer fertile soil that drains well and perform best with some supplementary fertilizer for flowers. Starting with a fortified potting mix, such as Black Gold’s All-Purpose Potting Soil with RESiLIENCE, is a good idea. Potted plants appreciate large containers and will fill them in quickly, if plants are happy and well-tended. In warmer zones, these shrubs are best planted in garden and shrub borders mixed with other lush, tropical plants loaded with bright color.

  10. Fantastic Fragrant Garden Flowers

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    Paeonia lactiflora 'Sarah Bernhardt' JaKMPM

    Peony ‘Sarah Bernhardt’ is an old-fashioned pastel pink bloomer with a heady sweet fragrance. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    By the end of winter, gardeners long for the sweet scents of flowers.  Some of us take solace in cut flowers from the florist or supermarket while thumbing plant catalogs and indulging in flowery daydreams.  Convert those daydreams to reality by planning a few fragrant garden flowers to your beds, borders and containers.

    Scents of Early Spring

    The ultra-fragrant 'White Pearl' is an exceptional hyacinth for the spring garden.

    The ultra-fragrant ‘White Pearl’ is an exceptional hyacinth for the spring garden. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    Daffodils (Narcissus spp.) are the essence of spring and some varieties are delectably fragrant.  ‘Campernelle’ is one of them, a multi-flowered yellow species narcissus that blooms early and gracefully.  Towards the end of the daffodil season, luxurious ‘Rose of May’, a double-flowered white bloomer, lives up to its name, exuding a sweet scent.

    The legendary courtesan, Madame Pompadour, loved hyacinths (Hyacinthus orientalis) and nearly three centuries later, they still carry the fragrance banner into mid-spring, with stocky heads of highly scented florets in an array of Easter egg colors.  At about the same time, intensely fragrant lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis) scent shaded places with their unique “Muguet des bois” aroma, long a favorite of perfume makers.  If you already grow lily-of-the-valley, dig up a budded clump, pot it up with some Fafard Natural and Organic Potting Soil and enjoy the fragrance indoors while the flowers last.  Afterward, return the clump to the garden.

    Late Spring Fragrance

    The deep purple blooms of sweet pea 'Cupani' offer spicy fragrance from late spring through summer.

    The deep purple blooms of sweet pea ‘Cupani’ offer spicy fragrance from late spring through summer. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    In pots or trained against walls or trellises, old-fashioned annual sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus) send out a ravishing scent.  The maroon and purple Cupani types are among the most fragrant, but all varieties please the nose while tantalizing the eye with delicate orchid-like flowers.  Get a jump on the season by starting sweet pea seeds indoors in trays or cell packs filled with Fafard Natural and Organic Seed Starter.

    By late spring, fragrant garden peonies (Paeonia lactiflora) command center stage, with tall stems, handsome dissected leaves, and big, bountiful flowers.  Older varieties, like the rose-pink double, ‘Sarah Bernhardt’, offer winning fragrance and make excellent cut flowers as well.  Well-tended peony plants will live for decades in the garden.

    Summer Scent Extravaganza

    Sweet scents abound in summer.  Biennial stocks (Matthiola incana) are sun lovers that grow one to three feet tall and bear colorful, dense clusters of spice-scented flowers.  Carnations (Dianthus caryophyllus) echo that clove fragrance, with familiar ruffled flowers in single and bi-colored combinations of reds, whites, yellows, pinks, and purples.  Both stocks and carnations can be grown from seed started indoors eight to 12 weeks before the last frost date, but are also available from nurseries in starter packs.
    Standing tall at the back of the early summer border, nothing perfumes the air like Oriental lilies (Lilium spp.).  Hybridized from several different Asian lily species, Orientals grow three to four feet high and may require staking.  The effort is worth it to support the enormous scented trumpets that are borne in profusion on mature plants.  Freckled pink ‘Stargazer’ and pristine white ‘Casa Blanca’ are among the best-known Oriental lilies.

    Evening Stars

    Nicotiana 'Domino White' (DOMINO SERIES) JaKMPM

    The Nicotiana alata hybrid ‘Domino White’ scents the air on summer nights.

    Fragrant night-blooming plants open their petals in the evening hours to attract pollinators.  One of the best is flowering tobacco (Nicotiana alata), which bears long tubular flowers that flare into white or yellow-green trumpets.  Look for the fragrant species form, rather than unscented hybrids, and plant near seating areas or paths where evening visitors can enjoy them.

    Fall Scents

    Fragrance is harder to find as the growing season winds down, but plants that provide it are worth seeking out.  Perfume shady spots with cimicifuga, sometimes known as black cohosh or bugbane (Actaea racemosa).  Rising four to six feet tall, Cimicifuga bears elegant, deeply dissected foliage.  Sweet-smelling white flowerheads, each one bearing scores of tiny fragrant blooms, wave high above the leaves in the early fall.
    Dahlias are great garden and cutting flowers, but are not known for fragrance.  It pays to plant the few that combine beauty and The award-winning 'Honka' dahlia is surprisingly fragrant!scent.  ‘Honka’ is one.  Thriving in sunny spots, the single flowers sport eight narrow yellow petals apiece.  The combination of beauty, scent, and hardiness won ‘Honka’ the Royal Horticultural Society’s coveted Award of Garden Merit.

    Location is Everything

    Position fragrant flowering plants strategically throughout the garden and combine them with a selection of shrubs, trees and foliage plants that also exude distinctive scents.  Even weeding seems easier when the fragrance of flowers hangs in the air.

    Many Dianthus are highly fragrant. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    Many Dianthus are highly fragrant. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

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