Catalina Perfume and other Fragrant Natives

Catalina perfume (Ribes viburnifolium)

Catalina perfume (Ribes viburnifolium)

Anyone who does not take a walk after a rain is missing something. Plants not only have a uniquely clean and radiant look, but many exude sweet fragrances that, on a typical day, are difficult if not impossible to detect.
Catalina perfume (Ribes viburnifolium) is a California native whose mellifluous foliar scent is pronounced after a rain. This is a shade- loving, drought-tolerant shrub that is on the short list of species recommended for planting under oak trees. Once established in the garden, it never needs to be watered. If you want Catalina perfume to spread, cut back vertically growing shoots as soon as they appear.
Cleveland or California blue sage (Salvia clevelandii) is a sun-loving native that also emits an after-rain fragrance. It has light- to dark-lavender blue flowers and is encountered when hiking in the hills that rise up from the Valley on its northern and southern perimeters. Cleveland sage foliage is not only fragrant but may be brewed into a tea as well.
An entire garden could be planted exclusively with fragrant California natives. If you live in the Santa Clarita area and have a large property, a cluster of Jeffrey pines (Pinus jeffreyi) will reward you with the aroma of vanilla as your trees mature. Meanwhile, when young, the Japanese-style symmetry and somewhat drooping branches of Jeffrey pines, together with their blue needles and silver bark, will definitely keep your interest.
California sycamore is the native tree of choice if you are sniffing for pleasant foliar aromas on hot summer days. The musky scent associated with many of our chaparral plants takes on a sweeter nuance in the case of California sycamores (Platanus racemosa). In addition, you cannot discount the mottled trunks and dramatic and unpredictable sculptured silhouettes associated with these trees.
The most adaptable fragrant native tree would be California incense cedar (Calocedrus decurrens). It is a species that graces gardens from Lancaster to Reseda to Santa Monica. Growing in full sun to light shade, the incense cedar has a natural pyramidal shape and never needs pruning. It has scales in the form of highly lustrous, flat green fans. As in the case of California sycamores, the spicy incense aroma for which this tree is famous is most noticeable on warm days. The incense cedar makes an excellent stand-alone specimen tree, as well as a tall, informal screen or hedge.
Moving down a story to large, fragrant native shrubs, you can choose from at least four possibilities. The deciduous California spice bush (Calycanthes occidentalis) has burgundy-red flowers and a scent that has been compared to old wine. This shrub produces numerous suckers that need to be pruned back if it is to reach its 8-foot height in rapid fashion; alternatively, you can let suckers assist you in training the spice bush onto an espalier. Both Pacific wax myrtle (Myrica californica) and California bay (Umbellularia californica) are evergreens that can be trained into gigantic 20-foot-tall hedges or even larger trees.
A more manageable evergreen, growing to around 10 feet, is the white-flowered bush anemone (Carpenteria californica), whose large white flowers will remind you of a cross between anemone and camellia. It should be grown in full sun and, once mature, be stingily watered. It will survive temperatures of 15 degrees Fahrenheit.
White flowering currant (Ribes indecorum) and pink winter currant (Ribes sanguineum) have attractive flowers that lure hummingbirds and pungent leaves for making tea, while chaparral currant (Ribes malvaceum) has fragrant flowers. They are manageable shrubs that grow 5 to 10 feet in height.
The most exotic-looking fragrant native is woolly blue curls (Trichostema lanatum). This is an extremely hydrophobic plant that simply will not tolerate summer water. Its flowers have long blue stamens that resemble serpents’ tongues or the plumage of a tropical bird. Grow it in full sun or in a tiny bit of shade. For minty ground covers, choose from yerba buena (Satureja), bee balm (Monardella) and American wild mint (Mentha arvensis).
TIP OF THE WEEK: After a rain, take note of where water puddles in your lawn and garden. This is a quick way of evaluating areas where drainage is inadequate. Then, once the ground dries, you will know where to take remedial action by adding soil amendments, digging dry wells or constructing French drains, depending on the severity of your drainage problems.

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