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Good scents in the garden; plant this 19-fragrant-herb garden just for the smell of it.

Scientists tell us that the sense of smell stimulates more nostalgia than any of the other senses. Haven't we all sniffed a lilac bush or a rose garden and immediately recalled a person or a place? Well, why not court some future memories with a fragrant herb garden? Herbs are easy. Most require little or no water once established and don't occupy much garden space-an average of about two square feet per plant. This means that an area as small as four-by-ten-feet can comfortably accommodate 18 to 24 herb plants. Herbs are by definition "soft-stemmed plants," which are more susceptible to fungi than hard-stemmed plants. Fungi thrive in darkness, wetness, and stagnant air. Herbs prefer the opposite: sun, airiness, and well-drained soils. In particular, herbs don't like "wet feet"; to avoid this, be sure that your soil has plenty of sand or gravel and that it does not stay wet or muddy. An elevated garden is desirable-on raised beds, a gentle slope, or a contained structure of brick, stone, or wood. This ensures good drainage and eliminates worries about surrounding wetness. In preparing any area for herbs, the primary consideration is the pH factor of the soil. Most herbs like a relatively neutral soil bed, so be sure to test the soil and make the necessary adjustments to bring the pH to within the 6.5 to 7.0 range. Otherwise, you will not get much growth. I also add about ten pounds of dehydrated manure to every 20 to 25 square feet of planting area; you can also substitute compost. Although herbs don't like a lot of fertilization, a bit of organic matter to get their root systems well-established is a good idea, especially in a sandy soil. Most perennial herbs require about 18 to 24 inches of space. Plan your herb garden with that fact in mind. The most popular of all fragrant herbs are the perennial lavenders. The English lavenders, Lavandula angustifolia, thrive in full sun and slightly alkaline (pH 7.1) light soil with good drainage. They're hardy to USDA zones 5 to 8. (Your county extension agent can tell you what your zone is.) Lavender Hidcote, the darkest flowering English lavender, is probably the blossom most preferred in potpourri making. Plant an alternating border of Hidcote and Lavender Rosea, which has unique pink blossoms. The neatest small shrub of all, this is my favorite for the garden, though its blossoms are not the traditional color.

An alternative lavender border could include Munstead, named for the garden of the noted British garden designer Gertrude Jekyll, and the earliest blooming English lavender with lavender blue flowers. Easily managed, it grows to only 13 inches. Gray Lady, a more recently introduced cultivar similar to Munstead, has blue flowers. It grows even neater.

The bee balms, Monarda didyma, are a wonderful group of flowering, fragrant perennial herbs. Their large, delicate blooms and stately, erect stems add great accent when planted in the background of any garden. Bee balms come in many colors, from brilliant reds to soft pinks as well as a pure white, a dark mahogany, and a vast range of violets. They're hardy in USDA zones 4 to 9.

Croftway Pink is my favorite, with its soft, rose-pink flowers. Adam Red is another popular monarda variety. The flowers of this cultivar are a bright, vivid red. The plant blooms in midsummer and remains colorful well into fall.

Also for planting in the background, Anise hyssop, Agastache Foeniculum, makes a bold garden accent with tall spikes of purple flowers that attract bees. (The bees make a fine, mild honey from it.) The very hardy perennial herb grows to 24 inches and flowers from July through September.

Plant hardy marjoram, Origanum X marjoricum, as one of your garden's corner plants. It has an especially pleasant, sweet, pungent fragrance released in the garden when brushed or after a gentle rain. It grows to about 20 inches in height and flowers through most of the summer. It's hardy to USDA zones 9 to 10.

Cleveland sage, Salvia Clevelandii, a pleasantly sweet, aromatic gray sage, grows to 18 inches and looks best in the heart of your garden. It is a hardy perennial, hairy leaved with true blue flowers and the best fragrance of all the hardy sages. Cleveland sage is hardy to USDA zones 4 to 8.

Corsican mint, Mentha Requienii, is the lowest growing and tiniest leaved of all the perennial mints. Hardy to USDA zone 5, it likes rich, moist soil (pH 6.5). It does require some protection from the heat of the summer's sun-its delicate leaves will sometimes bum in hot, dry weather.

For this reason, plant Corsican mint around or under the annual sages that grow rapidly in the summer to offer a good source of shade for the plant. Because it does not spread as other mints do, you can include it in small gardens; it is never the threat that its invasive cousins tend to be.

Two popular fragrant herbs, which I classify as "tender perennials" because I don't believe they consistently survive in winters with sustained temperatures below 15 degrees Fahrenheit, are curry plant, Helichrysum angustifolium, and Rosemary ARP, Rosmarinus officinalis Arp.

Curry plant's lovely gray foliage has a strong, sweet, curry scent when grown in warm sun. It produces tufts of golden flowers on 15-inch stems, suitable for drying. The delicate silvery foliage, resembling that of rosemary, makes it a welcome gray accent to the fragrant garden. Plant curry plant in the comer of your garden.

On a trip to Texas in the early 1970s, Madalene Hill found a blooming rosemary plant on January 18 when the temperature was 18 degrees Fahrenheit. All ARP rosemary plants originate from cuttings of this plant and may fulfill the Northern gardener's dream of a hardy rosemary. Probable hardiness is currently rated USDA zone 7. Plant Rosemary ARP in the heart of your garden.

Ambrosia, Chenopodium Botrys, is a member of the "goosefoot" family, so-called for the shape of its leaves. Ambrosia, also known as "feather geranium," grows easily from its long-lasting seed and reaches a height of 12 to 15 inches. It is a good mid-garden choice. Its plumes of foliage produce a sweet and spicy scent when touched.

Cinnamon basil, Ocimum Basilicum ssp., combines the traditional clove flavor of basil with cinnamon for a unique spicy fragrance. Set out plants after the last danger of frost and grow in full sun. Plant them in the background. They will reach a height of 24 inches and will flower a delicate lavender-rose throughout summer.

Lemon basil, Ocimum Americanum, has small leaves and a lemony fragrance that forms a base for some potpourri. It makes a fresh, light tea, and it is a traditional seasoning in pea soup. Lemon basil grows to 18 inches and flowers white, making it a luxurious choice for a comer of the garden. With an apple fragrance, chamomile (German), or Matricaria recutita, is a versatile and popular herb, hardy to USDA zones 3 to 4. This annual variety grows to 24 inches and produces more flowers than its perennial cousin, Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile). I prefer it in the fragrant garden as a comer planting. Heliotrope, Heliotropium arborescens, was my father's favorite fragrance, and its scent always reminds me of him. A Peruvian native, heliotrope has purple, vanilla-scented blooms that last all summer and add a wonderful old-fashioned fragrance to your garden on warm summer evenings. Plant it mid-garden. Although both can tower over other herbs in the garden, the very best fragranced annual sages are pineapple sage and fruity sage. Pineapple sage, Salvia elegans, sports brilliant, bright red, tubular flowers most of the summer and reaches a height of 3 feet and a spread of about 30 inches, so you have to give it a little more room than most other herbs. Plant pineapple sage in the background. Fruity sage, Salvia Dorisiana, has much larger, fussier leaves than pineapple sage, and its fragrance is much less defined. It is probably best described as a "fruit punch" flavor-very pleasant and sweet. Its lovely, tubular blossoms of rose pink flower in late summer. Plant it in the background but apart from pineapple sage. No fragrance garden would be complete without a scented geranium or two. Because rose-scented geranium, Pelargonium graveolens, is the most popular old-fashioned fragrance, I always recommend it. Deeply cut, heartshaped leaves with purple-veined, orchid flowers, this geranium sometimes grows to 24 inches with an equal spread, and it makes a perfect centerpiece planting. Once the fragrant garden is established, it truly pleases all the senses--not only with its wonderful smells, but also with its beauty in bloom, the delicate textures of the foliage, the nectar from its sweet blossoms. And if you stand quietly for a while, you may even hear an old lullaby grandma used to sing as she gathered lavender in her garden-or was that just a memory?
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Author:Gilbertie, Sal
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Apr 1, 1990
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