Daniel Gill, Merrill, Thomas A. | 10/28/2004 11:45:17 PM
By Dan Gill
LSU AgCenter Horticulturist
Now is the perfect time to plant cool-season bedding plants that will brighten our landscapes over the next five or six months.
Of course, while you’re at it, don’t make the mistake of many gardeners and forget that some cool-season bedding plants are wonderfully fragrant.
Color always seems to be the dominant factor when selecting these plants, and providing color to the landscape really is their primary function. But it is so enjoyable to walk out on a mild winter or spring day and catch the honey fragrance of sweet alyssum drifting in the air.
Fragrant cool-season annuals should be planted where they can best be appreciated.
Concentrate these plants at commonly used entrances to your house – whether it’s the front door, side door, back door or all three. In such a location you, your family and guests will be able to appreciate the sweet scent of these plants whenever leaving or arriving at your home.
Another ideal location is around your patio, deck or outdoor living area. There will be many days when mild weather will allow you to spend time sitting on the patio, and the sweet smell of fragrant flowers can make it that much nicer.
The addition of fragrant bedding plants in the immediate area of entrances and outdoor living areas – either in beds, containers or even in hanging baskets (no bending over to smell the flowers) – adds immeasurably to our enjoyment of those spaces.
One of the most outstanding fragrant cool-season annuals is stock (Matthiola). These plants produce spikes of double (occasionally single) flowers in shades of magenta, rose, purple, pink and white from a basal rosette of green or silvery leaves. The fragrance is very intense. Depending on the cultivar, stock can range in height from 10 to 30 inches. The shorter types, such as ‘Cinderella’ or ‘Midget,’ are excellent for bedding or containers, while the taller types are exceptional for cutting.
Sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritima) is very useful in the cool-season garden for its low, spreading growth habit. It is excellent when used in the front of flowers beds as an edging or when planted on the edges of raised planters, containers and hanging baskets where it will cascade beautifully over the sides. Sweet alyssum literally covers itself with small flowers in shades of white, pink, rose, lavender or purple. The pleasant fragrance is reminiscent of honey and permeates the air, especially on warm days in enclosed spaces.
Dianthus, or pinks, produce a sweet, spicy fragrance often compared to cloves. Fragrance is highly variable among different types, so smell the flowers at the nursery and look for at least a light scent. The common bedding dianthus generally are cultivars of Dianthus chinensis, and many are fragrant. ‘Telstar’ produces a light scent and is the best performer. Cultivars of Dianthus plumarius, such as ‘Sonata’ with its double carnation-like flowers or ‘Loveliness’ which produces single flowers with lacy fringed petals, are especially fragrant. Both produce longer stems that make them useful as cut flowers.
Nicotiana is related to tobacco and is commonly called flowering tobacco. It produces a rosette of hairy, medium-green leaves with taller stems loosely adorned with flaring five-petaled bells. As with dianthus, the fragrance of nicotiana varies from one type to another. Some types of hybrid nicotiana, such as the ‘Sensation’ strain, do have a sweet fragrance.
Finally, you simply could not have a fragrant cool-season flower garden without sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus). This vining annual produces the most outstanding fragrance of all, and it just wouldn’t be the same without them. The flowers are good for cutting, come in an astounding array of colors and are as beautiful as they are fragrant. Seeds should be planted now in well-prepared soil in a location that receives some shade in the afternoon. Of course, you will need to provide something for them to climb on. If temperatures in the low 20s or teens threaten, cover them, if possible. Flowering generally begins in March, with the peak occurring in April and ending with the heat of May
Of course, lots of other cool-season annuals can be planted into the garden now. Check your local nurseries and garden centers for transplants or seeds of the following: alyssum, annual baby’s breath, annual candytuft, annual phlox, bachelor’s button, calendula, dahlberg daisy, delphinium, dianthus, dusty miller, English daisy, forget-me-not, geranium, hollyhock, larkspur, nasturtium, nemophila, nicotiana, ornamental cabbage and kale, pansy, petunia, poppies, snapdragon, statice, stock, sweet pea, toadflax and viola.
Although many cool-season bedding plants prefer part sun to full sun (about six hours to eight hours of direct sun a day), the following will do well in or even prefer shade to part shade (about two hours to four hours of direct sun): alyssum, cyclamen, forget-me-not, lobelia, nasturtium, nicotiana, pansy, primrose and viola.
Get It Growing is a weekly feature on home lawn and garden topics prepared by experts in the LSU AgCenter. For more information on such topics, contact your parish LSU AgCenter Extension office or visit our Web site at www.lsuagcenter.com. A wide range of publications and a variety of other resources are available.