Species: arborescens or peruvianum
all enjoy flowers that have a sweet fragrance. I think that’s
why peonies are such favorites: they smell as good as they
look. But their bloom time is short, and over
by summer. What can we plant that has a continuous show of
pretty flowers with a sweet scent that lasts well into fall?
are perennial favorites, but many of them bloom intermittently
and a few
of the new ones have no scent at all. Besides, they
take lots of care. We may be unwilling to give them what they
need or unable to provide them with enough space to grow. So
we choose a good-looking little plant that’s scaled just
right for containers and we grow it in a hanging basket outside
a window or in a pot by the door so we can appreciate its flowers
and fragrance all summer.
traditional cottage-garden flowers, heliotrope was prized
by our grandmothers.
For more than a few years it was
hard to find in the marketplace but now it’s available
just about everywhere. There are named varieties galore, with
flowers in white and pale lavender. But I prefer the species,
the old-fashioned kind with dark green, crinkled leaves and
deep purple flowers. It’s most dependable, both in ease
of care and reliable fragrance. Reminiscent of vanilla, the
heliotrope’s scent gave rise to its common name used
years ago: the cherry-pie plant.
has also been called “turnsole,” after
its tendency to turn its flowers and leaves toward the sun
over the course of each day. And at night it readjusts itself
to face eastward, to be ready for sunrise. That tendency is
at the root of the name heliotrope, too. It means to move with
heliotrope wants plenty of sunlight, at least through mid-day.
it prefers is full sun in the morning
but some shelter in the late afternoon, lest its leaves burn.
Beyond that, it appreciates rich soil kept evenly moist—easy
to manage, in a container—and regular feeding with a
diluted, water-soluble fertilizer that’s higher in phosphorus
than nitrogen. Look for a formulation that “encourages
blooms.” The one I use is 10-60-10: something I would
never apply to plants in the open ground, but it suits my containers
just fine. In the full heat of summer, I water my heliotropes
every day and give them a feeding once each week. That’s
one of the nice things about growing pretty plants in containers.
Even in times of drought, there’s plenty of water left
over from household use to keep the plants happy, and they
can be fed extravagantly so they’ll put on their best
show. My heliotropes will be tuckered out by late September
and they’ll end up in the compost pile to make their
contribution to next year’s garden that way. Yes, I could
take cuttings. And yes, I could go to the trouble of trying
to keep them alive indoors. But neither is worth the trouble,
particularly when I can buy new starts next spring for less
than 2 dollars at any nursery center I care to visit.
get along fine with other plants in containers, so long as
they’re adequately fed and frequently watered.
They don’t respond to crowded conditions by developing
powdery mildew, and they’re not prone to pests. What
they do require is frequent pinching when they’re young.
seem heartless, but pinch them anyway. We know that pinching
and that lesson is particularly
true where heliotropes are concerned. If you don’t steel
yourself and do it, you’ll end up with a spindly plant
with one or two long-lasting flower heads, and that’s
are two approaches to pinching a heliotrope. One is to remove
side shoots until
the plant attains the height you
have in mind—it might make it to 20 inches—and
then start pinching back the top growth. This is not what I
do, because I prefer bushy plants. My technique is to pinch
back the tips all over the plant early on, which forces lots
of new side growth. I wait longer for flowers, but I get more
of them eventually. Removing faded blooms promptly results
in a continuous show of pretty flowers starting in July and
lasting till fall. Their fragrance is heavenly.
about the heliotropes we grow here can turn invasive. There
is a creeping
has become a plant pest in some warm-winter areas of the world.
It’s caused problems by invading forage fields, because
it’s poisonous to cattle. That attribute is shared by
Heliotropium arborescens—all parts of the plant are poisonous
and will cause gastric distress in humans and animals. So just
enjoy its scent and don’t eat it. Turn to a real cherry
pie for that pleasure, another of summer’s favorite treats.