Favorite Foliage for Fragrance

Gardener’s Corner | Questions and Answers with Local Experts

By Dan Songster, 2018 May

This regular column offers chapter members and local experts a chance to briefly share information on many things related to gardening with natives. The question for this issue: What is your favorite native for foliage fragrance?

Nancy Harris –“At Shipley Nature Center, we planted a triangle shaped plot outside the gate on park property with lots of Winifred Gilman Sage which is a cultivar of Salvia clevelandii.  People walking down the driveway were smelling the lovely aroma 20 feet away and coming into Shipley to ask what the plant was.  (We sold many plants that way—sort of like baking chocolate cookies when trying to sell a house.)  Unfortunately, for whatever reason, the Winifred Gilman was not as sturdy as plain Cleveland Sage so we lost all of them within a year. Now, I claim the latter plant as the best aroma.”

Linda Southwell –“For lovely smells in my garden, especially after a good rain, I like any of the salvias, especially White Sage, Cleveland Sage, and the sweet smell of Japatul Cleveland Sage. I have California Sagebrush  (Artemisia california) planted just inside my front gate for its welcoming aroma. Other favorites are Desert Lavender, and any of the Monardella mints (both Coyote and San Diego species).”

Rama Nayeri -“My favorite is Salvia clevelandii. I love it because it not only smells nice but you can bring the leaves indoors and put them in a vase.  You can even dry the leaves and use them in the dryer.”

Laura Camp -“My very favorite is Pitcher sage, Lepechinia fragrans; I am a total sucker for that one. But there are so many and varied. The minty San Miguel Savory (rare plant from Santa Ana Mountains) and the many Monardellas are all delightful and are great garden plants.”

There is nothing like sage smell in the garden—my visitors always comment on Cleveland and Black sage. The smell of California!

Leon Baginski -“Salvia spathaceaStachys bullata and Yerba buena. So many Salvias to choose from but then again I even like Trichostema laxum(Turpentine weed)!!”

Brad Jenkins -“Favorite, as in one?! Ha ha ha… Enchanting Woolly Blue Curls smells citrus-herb to some people while having overtones of bubble-gum to others. San Miguel Savory leaves have an uplifting mint aroma for the nose and flavor as a tea. Good old cowboy cologne California Sagebrush refreshes the mood of many of us while hiking on trails (and my wife’s dog smells great after a dash through the backyard brush.) Catalina Perfume, thick leaf Yerba Santa, Monardella mints…”

Chuck Wright -“Cowboy cologne, California Sagebrush, Artemisia californica, would have to be my favorite as it would with many folks. My favorite smell would be Coastal Sage Scrub just after a rain and my favorite mystery smell would have to be California Everlasting, Pseudognaphalium californicum, because of the variety of responses: citrus, maple syrup, as starters, and that it changes with time on your hand.”

John Gossett -“Ribes viburnifolium, or Catalina Perfume, brings to mind a cedar chest with a fresh lemon or two stored among the keepsake blankets and quilts.”

Mike Evans-“In the wild places: Creosote. In the garden: Wooly Blue Curls.”

David Churchhill-“I know it’s not pure native but my Verbina lilacina De La Mina is heavenly in the spring bloom.”

Elizabeth Wallace-“I love Myrica californica for foliage fragrance. I cut branches from and make a wreath for my front door. Their slightly spicy, woodsy fragrance wafts in the house when the front door opens.”

Ron Vanderhoff-“Probably overlooked by most, Salvia spathacea has an amazing foliage fragrance. It is fruity and intoxicating and is especially obvious when the plant is being watered.”

J. Mark Sugars-“Salvia apiana, White Sage.  No contest.”

Sima Bernstein-“It has to be White Sage.”

Greta Helphrey-“Trichostema lanatum is my absolute favorite for fragrance, but has proven a short-lived beauty in my garden. I keep trying! Meanwhile, I am still learning to make Salvia spathacea at home in shady, well-mulched corners of my garden. But Salvia clevlandii is bullet-proof and always redolent. Great in the garden in even the worst summer heat and anytime in a bouquet. Plus, I bake with it.”

Kathy Sturdevant-“hmmmm…. I used to think Pozo Blue Sage, but that might have been eclipsed by Hummingbird Sage…  That would be my garden plant choice.  For hiking, I can’t resist the Artemisia californica.

Mary Arambula-“Two stand out—Cleveland Sage and ‘Canyon Gray’ Artemisia.”

Alan Lindsay-“Immediately Prunus ilicifolia ssp ilicifolia popped into my mind. The crushed leaves of the Holly Leaf Cherry give off a pleasing almond-like scent”

Celia Kutcher-“All the sages & mints, especially Willowy monardella (Monardella linoides ssp viminea).”

Dori Ito-“Number one for me is the Hummingbird sage, Salvia spathacea. If you can get past the tactile unpleasantness of its sticky leaves, you will be rewarded with the fruitiest, slightly citrusy, sweetest, most wonderful scent in the California native world. That being said, don’t even get me started on all the runner ups…”

Susan Krzywicki-“I’m still in love with the scent of Salvia (Sages). When I teach, it is the easiest one for students to relate to, so I love it for that: an entry point for new learners.”

Dan Songster-“My favorite scent comes from the leaves of Ribes malvaceum, Chaparral currant. I remember a pleasant moment long ago spent sitting between two of them in the GWC Native Garden and quietly breathing in their fragrance. Of course the Pitcher Sages—Lepechinia species, are also wonderful. Someone once described the scent as a cross between pineapple and horse sweat. Well, I like it!”


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