D  e  s  e  r  t     E  x  p  o  s  u  r  e     May 2006


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The fight to raise the minimum wage moves to the local level.

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Behind the scenes of the Silver City Blues Festival.

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Voices from the Southern New Mexico Correctional Facility.

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Stop and Smell the Roses (and Other Flowers)

How to plant a fragrance garden that your neighbors won't turn up their noses at.


On a warm evening, the scent of jasmine, tuberose or gardenia can fill the air with a relaxing bit of aromatherapy from your own garden. Our world contains a multitude of plants that carry scents ranging from sweet violets to almost overpowering honeysuckle. The location of your fragrance garden should be near a bedroom window, a room where you love to relax or a spot where you can place a comfortable bench or chair so you can enjoy it.

As with every garden, you'll need to find a spot with full sun and loose, well-drained soil. Not an easy task here in the Southwest. For most of us that means building your own soil by combining topsoil, compost and fertilizer. Amending your soil is going to be the most important step to getting your garden off to a healthy start. There are several ways you can do this. If your local nursery carries bulk garden soil, you can have it delivered or truck it in yourself; if you have a very small garden area, purchase it bagged. You can also make your own by using the following formula: one part top soil, one part compost or manure, one part shredded peat moss (for very sandy areas, not for heavy clay soil). Mix in a wheelbarrow or directly in your beds. The ideal soil should be deep, well-drained and fertile, contain plenty of organic matter, and retain moisture well. Sandy soils tend to be low in fertility and do not hold water well. Clay soils often drain poorly, crack when dry, and become very sticky/pasty when wet. Adding organic matter to almost any Southwestern soil will improve it. Most soils in New Mexico are low in organic matter.

For container gardening, I always recommend clay, not plastic containers, because clay breathes while plastic retains heat and moisture—if you're not careful, plastic can "boil" the roots of your plants. Clay containers dry out much more quickly than regular gardens. Before you plant in your clay pots, soak them overnight in water. And if you're reusing pots, CLEAN THEM THOUROGHLY WITH SOAP AND WATER! Do not use cheap potting soil or plain topsoil. It will harden and your plants will not do well. Pick a potting soil that has a slow-release fertilizer and is loose so that it drains well. The cheap stuff hardens like cement.

When picking out plants, the first rule is that you don't want every plant in your fragrance garden to have a strong scent. That would be like going to the perfume counter and spraying everything you can find on your clothes. ([I actually tried this when I was a child and think it created some type of nerve gas.) You want a garden that is balanced with subtle fragrance.

You also want to balance the flowers and the foliage. Make the garden interesting with different textures, shapes and sizes of plants. Add in some potted varieties.

Don't forget about paths or walkways. Intermingle stones or bricks with wooly thyme or Corsican mint. Every time you walk across these plants they will release their wonderful fragrance. Chamomile is still used today in Great Britain as a "lawn"—established beds are mowed like grass and are very hardy.

There are so many fragrant plants it's often difficult to choose. I will divide them out by groups and give some suggestions as to what works in our area:

Shrubs and Vines

Old Spice Sweet Pea—Climbs three to four feet, covered in pink, blue, crimson and cream blooms. This variety can withstand heat and blooms from June until frost.

Hall's Honeysuckle—A fast grower that climbs up to 20 feet. Gold trumpet flowers are highly fragrant. Red fruit in the fall that birds love.

Sweet Shrub—This is also called Carolina Allspice and grows six to nine feet tall. The deep-burgundy blossoms have a wonderful fragrance similar to strawberries. Hummingbirds love it.

Mock Orange—This shrub is covered with white double blossoms that smell of sweet oranges. The shrub grows to about seven feet and prefers full sun. It is wonderful for cut-flower bouquets.

Blue Wisteria—One of the most beautiful vines on the planet. Needs support for heavy vines that can climb up to 20 feet. Weeping flower clusters are most fragrant in May.

You may also wish to try Trumpet Vine, Climbing Nasturtiums, Arnold's Red Honeysuckle and Hoya.


We are so fortunate to have a climate that roses flourish in. Miniature roses rarely have a noticeable fragrance, but they are a great accent plant. In the Tea Rose category, the following varieties are stunners for both fragrance and color:

Granada—Peach and gold swirls and a very spicy scent.

Irish Gold—Top yellow Tea Rose with a bloom up to seven inches across and averaging 33 petals, with a light, sweet scent.

Mr. Lincoln—This variety is so fragrant and brilliant red that is one of the most popular roses ever introduced. It is a vigorous grower.

Climbing roses do especially well in the Southwest:

Don Juan—Climbs 12-14 feet and is covered with dark red masses of flowers. Rich fragrance.

Climbing Peace—Climbs 8-10 feet and has cream petals with pale pink edges. A heavy bloomer with a light, sweet fragrance

Paul's Scarlet—Climbs to 15 feet with red-orange blossoms. Blooms all summer with a spicy fragrance.

Annuals & Perennials

Alyssum—Low-growing fragrant edging plant with profuse white or purple blossoms. It is very compact, reaching a height of about three inches. Will spread rapidly and return in the spring if in a sheltered spot. Perfect for edging a bed or container.

Angelwing Jasmine—Beautiful vine with glossy green leaves and white flowers. Highly fragrant and does well in containers. If kept in the house it will bloom in the winter. Likes indirect sun.

Gardenia—Famous for its fragrance. In our area will do well in a clay pot with protection from the hottest part of the day. Must be kept moist and brought in during cold weather.

Russian Sage—A common landscaping plant for our area, this grows in excess of three feet and can become quite large in two years. It can really take the heat and loves full sun. Blue flowers are spectacular as a background plant.

Double Tuberose—Grows to about three feet with beautiful double white flowers. Great for a cut flower. Blooms in July and August.

Dianthus—A large family of plants that produce spicy scented flowers, including Sweet William or "Stinking Bills," as they are called in England. A tough perennial that spreads rapidly, ranging in height from three to 12 inches

Lavender—No fragrance garden should be without it. There are several varieties with different leaf structures, ranging in height from eight to 20 inches when in full bloom. A very hardy plant that does well in almost any soil.

Violets—The perfect sweet-scented compact plant. Ranges in color from a pale yellow to almost black. They love the shady areas. Try the variegated Mt. Saint Helens for a different look.

Some suggestions for texture plants: Silver King Artemisia, Purple Ruffles Basil, French Tarragon, Lemon Balm, Lemon Verbena, Rosemary, Bay, Santonlina.

Remember the "tall to small" rule as you plan your garden. You don't want forward plants to overshadow the rest.

The bloom season in the fragrance garden starts with the first violets and grape hyacinths of spring and continues until the last calendula are killed by the late autumn frosts. You can enjoy the sight of the garden as well as harvest some of the bounty for floral arrangements, potpourris and crafts.


The Kitchen Gardener will be sharing space in The Silver Confectionary, opening this month in the historic Silco Theater Building on Bullard Street in downtown Silver City. For information call 538-5317 or
email alicepauser@msn.com

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