California is home to a lot of unique plants that we can all enjoy for many reasons. One of the most enjoyable aspects of a native garden is the overwhelming scents and flavors of our native plants. Sometimes you might have to lean in close to smell them and sometimes you even have to rub a leaf to get the full effect, but there are also some native shrubs that will reach out and stop you in your tracks with their irresistible aromas.
Romneya coulteri – Matilija Poppy
Matilija poppy is a very showy California native known for its very large white blooms that resemble a fried egg. The flowers have an interesting scent, which is hard to describe, but feel free to try! Romneya is a tough plant that does very well in dry areas, slopes and even in clay soil. Make sure to give this plant some room to grow because Romneya will spread underground and fill out into a nice patch of 6 feet or more. The plant itself can get up to 6 feet tall. Matilija poppy will bloom in the spring and summer, and once the plant is done blooming you will want to cut the whole plant back down to the ground, leaving only a few inches of stems. Next year the plant will bounce back and look even better than it did before.
Trichostema lanatum – Woolly Blue Curls
Woolly Blue Curls is one of the best smelling native plants around. Blue Curls send out very long lasting blue/purple flowers. They even make good cut flowers as well. This shrub grows about 4’x4’. Trichostema lanatum is known to be one of the hardest natives to grow. In most gardens they are short lived. Blue curls need great drainage and will not like summer irrigation. If you can’t resist the fragrance of blue curls but can’t seem to keep them alive, try the variety of Trichostema called ‘Midnight Magic’ which will be a lot easier to care for and still provides the strong flavorful scent of Blue Curls.
There are a lot of native salvias that provide strong fragrance in the garden. Hummingbird sage (Salvia spathacea), White sage (Salvia apiana), and Cleveland sage (Salvia clevelandii) are some of the easier to find sages that do very well in gardens. Try planting a sage outside a window and let the fragrance wander inside. Salvia flowers also make great cut flowers.
Salvia spathacea – Hummingbird sage
Hummingbird sage has a powerful, sweet scent and beautiful crimson flowers which provide food to its namesake. The fragrance is sweet, strong, and enjoyable. They can get up to 2 or 3 feet tall and will spread by underground rhizomes. This sage does well in shade or morning sun.
Salvia apiana – White sage
White sage is a tough CA native plant with pleasant fragrance as well. Salvia apiana can get up to 6+ feet with its flower stalks. The foliage is a minty grey, green color. White sage is very tough and does well with little care. Give white sage full, warm sun and good drainage.
Salvia clevelandii – Cleveland Sage
Cleveland sage is a very popular native, well known for its strong fragrance and beautiful soft purple flowers. Salvia clevelandii gets about 3-4 feet tall. Provide Cleveland sage with full, warm sun and good drainage.
There are many other natives that have delightful scents to them as well from the peculiar smelling Matilijah poppy, to the simple, strong and sweet scent of Salvia spathacea. Maybe the next time you’re out on a hike, your nose might stop you to take a closer look at that salvia.