Gardening With Tony
BEVERLY HILLS—Remember the smell of the neighbor's kitchen that met you on the sidewalk as you occasionally walked by when you were young? Whether it was Momma Tomeo's gnocchi, Mrs. Panagakos' fresh bread or Mrs. Adam's black eyed peas, it was so alluring, even from considerable distance. Fragrant flowers may not compare to black eyed peas (mmm), but they certainly can be alluring even without being seen.
Because flowers prefer to be efficient at their work of attracting pollinators, they tend to be either colorful or fragrant, but not both. Those that attract pollinators with color do not need to also use fragrance. Conversely, those that use fragrance to impress pollinators do not need flashy colors. Most fragrant flowers are pale shades of white, and bloom for a short time. However, there happen to a few flowers that are both fragrant and colorful.
Black locust is one of the most fragrant of trees, despite its many other problems. (It is invasive and weedy.) The flowers are bright white, and abundant enough to be quite impressive. Southern magnolia has a distinctive but more subdued fragrance. The flowers are impressively large and bloom randomly through the year, but pale and not very showy among the bold evergreen foliage.
Of the many shrubs with fragrant flowers, mock orange (Philadelphus spp.) has rampant growth with a good display of elegant and remarkably fragrant white flowers. Daphne produces a strongly sweet fragrance with clusters of small pale pink flowers. Both lilac and angel's trumpet, although very different from each other, have the advantage of impressively fragrant flowers that are quite colorful. Roses offer a better variety of color, but not many are as fragrant.
(However, mock orange and lilac prefer higher elevations of the Santa Monica Mountains and inland areas where winters are a bit cooler, instead of lower elevations near the beach or the floor of the Los Angeles Basin, where winters are very mild.)
Wisteria is an aggressive vine with flowers and fragrance like those of the black locust, with all the colors of lilac. Despite the advantage of a longer bloom season, fragrant honeysuckle lacks impressive color.
Earlier in spring, bulbs like freesia, lily, narcissus and some iris bloomed with some of the most fragrant flowers available, in all sorts of colors. Alyssum and flowering tobacco are nice fragrant annuals that bloom longer than most others. Sweet pea may not last as long as weather gets warmer, but compensates with richer and more varied fragrances.
tree of the week: black locust
If only it were not such an invasive weed, black locust, Robinia pseudoacacia, might be appreciate for remarkably fragrant and abundant white bloom that resembles that of wisteria. The pinnately compound leaves are about five to ten inches long with rounded leaflets that individually are about one half to three quarters of an inch wide and twice as long. Autumn color is soft yellow. Trees can grow fast to more than fifty feet tall. Furrowed and fissured gray bark makes middle aged trees seem older and more distinguished than they really are. The wood is excellent firewood. All parts are toxic so should be kept out of reach of horses.
Black locust is native to a big area between Pennsylvania, Georgia and Kansas. It was brought to California both to produce firewood quickly, and because it is so appealing in gardens. Modern cultivars and other specie with purplish pink or pinkish purple flowers lack fragrance, but are not invasive.
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