Las Pilitas Nursery

California Native Plants are all we grow!

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3232 Las Pilitas Rd
Santa Margarita, CA 93453

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The Fragrant Garden - fragrance of California native plants.

You move into a new dimension of gardening when you have fragrance in your garden. You are sometimes carried back in time or to a different place by certain fragrances. When you start noticing fragrances you become aware of other little things in the garden. For example, I was out in the garden working and smelled something really good. I was near the lavender plant but it did not smell exactly like lavender. I walked all around the area and still couldn't figure it out. Anyway, I finally realized it was the Jeffrey Pine, which was right under my nose, so to speak. It does not have the fragrance up close but when you are in the vicinity of the tree you can smell the wonderfully sweet-incense type of fragrance. Our favorite fragrant plants are Brickellia californica, Evening Primrose (Oenothera caespitosa), Nightshade (Solanum spp.), California Wood Strawberry (Fragaria californica), Jeffrey Pine (Pinus jeffreyi), Cleveland Sage (Salvia clevelandii), California Rose (Rosa californica) and Fragrant Rose (Rosa woodsii). Once you start noticing fragrant plants you will come to have your favorites.

One of of fans from the east coast showed up on a July afternoon and was fascinated by the smells. After awhile he was smelling every plant and oohing and ahhing.
We go down the least traveled path for our photos. - grid24_6

These plants are fragrant whenever you are nearby

Looking into a Jeffery Pine - grid24_12
Jeffrey Pine (Pinus jeffreyi)-This tree would be perfect in a mountain garden. A sweet incense - lavender fragrance, vanilla cookies?
Brickellia californica growing out of rocks along hwy 38 at about Angel Oaks. Brickellia used to be in most of the mountains around Los Angeles. If you planted a few 100,000 of these native plants back, Los Angeles might smell good again. - grid24_12
Brickellbush (Brickellia californica)-The insignificant flowers have an especially powerful fragrance in the evening,at a distance of 300 ft. This plant blooms in late summer through mid-fall. I love to plant it behind the garbage cans so you can't see it and do not know it's there until it flowers.
Oenothera caespitosa ssp. marginata, Evening Primrose, has large white flowers on a low-growing perennial plant. - grid24_12
White Evening Primrose (Oenothera caespitosa)-The large, white, incredibly beautiful flowers emit a hauntingly sweet fragrance at a distance of several hundred feet. The flowers on this low-growing perennial open up at dusk and bloom from spring through summer.
Philadelphus lewisii, Wild Mock Orange flowers are fragrant - grid24_12
California Mock Orange (Philadelphus lewisii)-The medium-sized, white flowers bloom in late spring through midsummer. This shrub is very underrated, has a form like a lilac and could be used in place of it in western gardens. It is also popular with the swallowtail and monarch butterflies and has a wonderfully sweet fragrance. Also, picked for cut flowers, you can mix with roses and sages for a real twist.
Ribes viburnifolium Evergreen Currant and Catalina Perfume.  - grid24_12
Catalina Currant (Ribes viburnifolium)-flowers and leaves. The tiny, insignificant flowers bloom in late winter through mid-spring, producing a perfume-like fragrance; hence its other name, Catalina Perfume. After a rain the foliage also produces a sweet, woodsy odor. Sample for tea; the plant is not poisonous but a little bit can make a lot of tea.
Solanum xanti hoffmannii grows from about Santa Barbara south into San Diego County.  - grid24_6
Nightshade (Solanum spp.-)The purplish-blue flowers, very showy when the plant is covered with them, bloom in late winter through early summer. These perennials would work well near a deck or patio where you could smell their sweet fragrance on spring and summer evenings.
Cleveland Sage or Musk Sage (Salvia clevelandii)- This plant blooms from mid-spring through midsummer, producing showy bluish-lavender flowers in whorls that hummingbirds love. The fragrance of the leaves is very intense and this sage would do well in a sunny, dry area outside a window or near a walkway. We grow Salvia clevelandii x 'Pozo Blue', a hybrid of this that is more garden tolerant, Salvia clevelandii 'Alpine' that has a longer flowering period and seems to tolerate cold and clay soil better, and Salvia clevelandii 'Winnifred Gilman' that has prettier flowers.

These plants are fragrant up close- smell the flowers!

Ceanothus impressus impressus fragrant flowers - grid24_12
Many of the Ceanothus, especially the holly leaved types, have very fragrant flowers.
Southern or Yellow Bush Penstemon (Keckiella antirrhinoides)-This bush Penstemon is a true "wild" flower in that the plant is very noticeable when it is in flower and after that it goes dormant and becomes invisible until the next flowering period. When this Penstemon is in flower everyone notices it by its mass of yellow flowers and its mysterious fragrance.
Calycanthus occidentalis, Spice Bush has fragrant flowers that smell like burgundy wine. - grid24_12
California Spice Bush (Calycanthus occidentalis)-The maroon, many-petaled,( and many sepals ) medium-sized flowers bloom mid-spring through late summer. The flowers and the leaves are fragrant and each has their own fragrance. The leaves have a spicy fragrance and the flowers smell like the "ultimate" wine.
Wood Strawberry, Fragaria californica, tastes pretty good. Can be used in a container or as a small groundcover. - grid24_12
Wood Strawberry (Fragaria californica)-Our California strawberry fruits in summer and when you bend down to search for the small, delicate fruits you are surrounded by the true strawberry fragrance,which surpasses the highly touted European alpine strawberry (even though now the botanists have lumped the two plants together as belonging to the same species). The California strawberries taste great, too. The dried fruits and leaves are great used as one of the ingredients in herbal teas.
Rosa woodsii ultramontana Mountain Rose has lightly fragrant flowers. - grid24_12
Rose (Rosa spp.)-The single, pink, medium-sized flowers bloom in late spring through late summer and are very fragrant. In fact, the bushes are massed with bloom and these roses have the original rose fragrance which the hybrid roses cannot duplicate. The California Rose (Rosa californica) and the Fragrant Rose (Rosa woodsii) are best grown as small thickets in an informal garden. Also, the rose hips of Rosa woodsii are very fragrant and excellent for tea. The Wood Rose (Rosa gymnocarpa) is a more delicate version of the wild rose and grows in shadier spots, where it produces delicate, pink single roses with a sweet rose fragrance.

These plants give off fragrance when they are brushed as you walk by

Artemesia tridentata, Great basin sage. - grid24_12
Sagebrush (Artemisia spp.)- The leaves of the Sagebrush plants have a very pungent fragrance that some people do not care for and others say it reminds them of home and they love it. You can use the leaves as a moth repellent. They are great in gardens for gray-silvery accents or massed for someone who likes gray. Also, you can use Sagebrush in a spicy potpourri. Two of the most popular shrubs are California Sagebrush (Artemisia californica) and Big Basin Sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata). Big Basin sage will grow in most of California, but is best in the mountains.
Woolly Blue curls mixed in a clump of Artemesia californica. California has a distinct look and smell because of it's native plants. - grid24_12
Now the Woolly Blue Curls would be more tasty. Here it is mixed with Artemisia californica.
California sagebrush grows along the coast, in the inner coastal mountains, and in San Joaquin gardens. Both of these sagebrushes form a significant part of the diet of quail. (Don't ask me; I think the idea of them eating such really small, smelly seeds is weird too.)
Cypress (Cupressus spp.) The cypress trees have a distinct sage-woodsy odor that people seem to love or hate. The 'best' smelling of these is Gowen Cypress (Cupressus goveniana ssp. goveniana); it has a little twist of lemon in it. The others will remind you of fresh pungent, clean air or a skunk according to your palate.
Juniper (Juniperus spp.)-These trees and shrubs have fragrant leaves. California Juniper (Juniperus californica) has beautiful gray-blue foliage and is perfect in a dry woodland garden as a single accent or as a windbreak. Creeping Juniper (Juniperus communis var. saxatilis) can be used as a ground cover for a mountain garden.
Pitcher Sage (Lepechinia spp.)-The white or pink, medium-sized, pitcher-shaped flowers of this 5 ft.- high bush bloom in mid-spring through early summer. The leaves have an intense, unique fragrance reminiscent of the chaparral plant community. Again, some people love it and some people hate it. The flowers are showy and this would be another plant that would do well in a wild garden. Afternoon shade seems to be the preferred location in the garden for the Pitcher Sage. The hummingbirds do visit it. Lepechinia calycina is the best known

Lepechinia fragrans Wallace's Pitcher Plant, Island Pitcher Sage and Fragrant Pitcher Sage

growing in the chaparral and oak woodland plant communities and the most wide ranging plant with large, white, pitcher-shaped flowers. Lepechinia fragrans, from the Channel Islands and the south coast, has gorgeous pink flowers and greenish-gray, fuzzy foliage, and Lepechinia ganderi from the peninsula ranges has dark green foliage and smaller white flowers.
Incense cedar, foliage is fragrant. - grid24_12

Incense Cedar (Calocedrus decurrens)-This tall tree would do best in parks or very large gardens and has the fragrance of the "mountains." A fresh-incense-like fragrance characterizes the Incense Cedar. Incense Fragrance

Mentha arvensis-This is the mint that is best to taste with the 'true' mint fragrance. This mint creeps along the ground and can become invasive, so keep it in a pot sunk in the ground to slow it down a bit, or grow it in a pot on the patio.

Western Bee Balm (Monardella spp.)-These small perennials flower in summer, and are a favorite of many species of butterflies. The flower clusters look like purple or white pom poms. The leaves have a strong minty fragrance and these plants would be great at the front of a flower border or along a path.

Ceanothus leucodermis, White bark Ceanothus in the wild - grid24_12
Many of the California Lilacs, (Ceanothus) have very fragrant foliage and flowers.

California Wax Myrtle (Myrica californica)-This plant would be perfect as a hedge along a walkway. The leaves have a wonderful fragrance. These plants need lots of water, and are sensitive to frost, so do best in coastal areas. This plant is tolerant of windy areas. The fruits are covered in wax, which an enterprising gardener could use to make bayberry candles.

Wild Currant (Ribes spp.) These plants flower from mid-fall through midsummer,depending on the species. They are invaluable as early-season nectar plants for hummingbirds. The foliage has a spicy fragrance and these plants would do best in a woodland setting or as a transition plant between a wet area and dry area of the garden. We use Ribes sanguineum var. glutinosum or Ribes indecorum or Ribes malvaceum as a minor ingredient in our herbal teas. Many of the native birds love, not like, love, the berries.

Salvia clevelandii, Winnifred Gilman has fragrant foliage and flowers. - grid24_12
California Sage (Salvia spp.)- Cleveland Sage (Salvia clevelandii) does emit a fragrance in a humid atmosphere for a short distance. The sages flower in mid-spring through midsummer. All of them have fragrant foliage.
Salvia Gracias flowers on a flat plant. Gracias has sage fragrance on flower and leaf. - grid24_12
There is a sage for most areas of the garden from flat creeping sages (Salvia sonomensis, Salvia 'Gracias') to small bushy sages (Salvia 'Dara's Choice', Salvia vaseyi) to larger bush sages (Salvia mellifera, Salvia apiana, Salvia leucophylla). Most of the sages like to grow in full sun and do not like any irrigation water, after established. I have used the native sages in cooking and in potpourri, and in flower arrangements and as incense sticks.
Pycnanthemum californicum is a mint from Southern California that you can mix with Yerba Buena to create a low mounding path with scent.
Satureja spp.- All of these plants are in the mint family and their leaves have a minty fragrance. Yerba Buena (Satureja douglasii) is a flat, creeping perennial with tiny white flowers and shiny, roundish leaves that likes shady spots and could be used as a ground cover under oaks or grown in pots. The Red Hummint (Satureja mimuloides) is a taller spreading perennial with upright stems 2 ft. high and has orange-red, tubular flowers and is a must for a sunny, moist border in a hummingbird garden. San Miguel Savory (Satureja chandleri) likes sunny to part shady areas between chaparral shrubs, and would do best between stepping stones, at the front of a border or at a path's edge, in a dry wild garden.

Woolly Bluecurls (Trichostema spp.)- This plant blooms in late spring through late summer with the most strangely beautiful flowers of bluish lavender. The leaves are intensely fragrant, and the plant is noticed by everyone.
Woolly Blue would look appropriate in a wild garden or an informal garden. Both Trichostema lanatum, which grows from the south coast ranges down to Baja in the coastal sage scrub and chaparral plant communities, and Trichostema parishii, which grows in southern California, need sunny or partly shady dry conditions. They do not care for summer water after established, but rinsing off the foliage would perk them up. In the coastal areas they do receive fog drip during the summer.
Umbellularia californica, Bay Laurel flowers are pollinated by flies and gnats. - grid24_12
California Bay Laurel (Umbellularia californica)-This tree's leaves have a much stronger fragrance than the Mediterranean Laurel (Laurus nobilis). The California Bay, which will grow in sun or shade, can be a shrubby tree 6 ft. high to a 100 ft. tall tree. This intensely fragrant tree would do well in large tubs as a potted plant or in a large garden growing with its associates in the mixed evergreen forest plant community. California Bay is very ornamental and would look good in a formal or informal garden. The leaves can be used in cooking and in potpourri and in wreath-making.

These fragrances have been separated into sections but they are from our observations and may smell quite different to you.

These plants are fragrant in the evening and/or at dusk

Sage-Like Fragrance

Evening Primrose (Oenothera caespitosa)-flowers

Sagebrush (Artemisia spp.)-leaves

Nightshade (Solanum spp.)-flowers

Juniper (Juniperus spp.)-leaves

Sweet Fragrance

Pitcher Sage (Lepechinia spp.)-leaves

Brickellbush (Brickellia californica)-flowers

Sage (Salvia spp.)-leaves

Wood Strawberry (Fragaria californica)-fruits

Woolly Bluecurls (Trichostema spp.)-leaves

California Bush Anemone (Carpenteria californica)-flowers

Bayberry Fragrance

Southern Yellow Bush Penstemon (Keckiella antirrhinoides)-flowers

California Wax Myrtle (Myrica californica)-leaves and fruits

Evening Primrose (Oenothera caespitosa)-flowers

Spice Bush (Calycanthus occidentalis)-leaves

Wild Mock Orange (Philadelphus lewisii)-flowers

Pungent Bay-Like Fragrance

Wild Rose (Rosa spp.)-flowers

California Bay (Umbellularia californica)-leaves

Nightshade (Solanum spp.)-flowers

Mint-Like Fragrance

Wine Like Fragrance

Western Bee Balm (Monardella spp.)-leaves

Spice Bush (Calycanthus occidentalis)-flowers

Wild Mint (Mentha arvensis)-leaves

Yerba Buena and relatives (Satureja spp.)-leaves

The cultural catalog gives information on each species so that you can arrange them in your garden. For example, Brickellbush (Brickellia californica) is a weedy-looking plant so you should put it at the back of a border where it cannot be seen but you can benefit from its fragrance. Monardella antonina is low growing with colorful flowers and you could place this plant in the front of the border. Several sage species could fill out the middle of the border.

In shady areas under Coast Live Oak (Quercus agrifolia) you could plant Yerba Buena near the path and Pink Flowering Currant (Ribes sanguineum var. glutinosum) near the back of the border, filling in the central area with Catalina Perfume (Ribes viburnifolium).

In sunny, wet areas Spice Bush is showy and in front of it along the path you could plant Red Hummint (Satureja mimuloides), with bright orange-red flowers to attract hummingbirds. Have fun with your fragrant garden!

Celeste Wilson, Las Pilitas Nursery