Louis Raymond experiments in his own gardens like

a mad scientist, searching out plants that most people have

never seen before & figuring out how to make them perform.- The Boston Globe

…Louis Raymond ensures that trees can grow in Brooklyn…

or just about any other place where concrete consumes

the dirt and skyscrapers shield the sunshine.- USA Today

 
 

NEW Trips to Take!

Myrtle's easy when the conditions are right.

 
 
 
 

NEW Plants to Try!

Louis tries to capture the exact words to describe the fleeting but deep pleasures to be found in these Summer-into-Autumn incredibles.

 
 
 
 

New Gardening to Do!

Allergic to bees? You can still have an exciting garden, full of flowers and color and wildlife.

 
 
 
 

Plant Profiles

Sweet Almond Verbena

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Lovely spikes of small white flowers, true—but the real kablam is in the fragrance.  They don't call this plant Sweet Almond Verbena for nothing.  The evening scent is so powerful, actually, that a more accurate name would be "You can smell it before you can see it."

 

Here's that same plant three weeks later.  New spikes are at the top, while the ones in in the picture above are still hard at work on both flowers and fragrance.  The spikes lengthen so productively, and over such a long period, that they give the impression of fireworks caught in the act. 

 

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Fragrant and fireworky, and from July to frost.  Could any plant do more?

 

 

 

Here's how to grow this tireless and fragrant shrub:

 

Latin Name

Aloysia virgata

Common Name

Sweet Almond Verbena

Family

Verbenaceae, the Verbena family.

What kind of plant is it?

Deciduous flowering shrub.

Hardiness

Zones 7 - 9.

Habit

Multi-stemmed and bushy; a die-back shrub in Zone 7 and into Zone 8; further south, a large shrub or, with some training, a small tree. 

Rate of Growth

Fast.

Size in ten years

If in a climate mild enough that there isn't Winter die-back, a large shrub or small tree to fifteen or even twenty feet tall.

Texture

Rather boring just in leaf, but fantastically redeemed by profuse long fingers of small white flowers at the tips of all the stems, for a lively (as well as deliciously-scented) presence throughout the hot months.

Grown for

its vigorand flexibility: A. virgata flowers at the tips of new growth, which it produces with gusto given the least encouragement.  It can grow as a die-shrub (mulch it well, though) in Zones 7 into 8, a solidly bushy shrub in Zone 8 into 9, and if limbed up, a small tree.  It will also grow in containers. 

 

its flowers: tiny white flowers in narrow pointed spikes that lengthen impressively over several weeks .  New spikes appear at the tips of branches as long as the weather's warm enough.  Although the flowers are only tidily engaging in themselves, their fragrance—an almond scent so powerful you'd think someone had just spritzed the whole bush, even the entire garden, with almond extract—is truly astounding.  Stronger in late afternoon and into the evening, it makes sweltering hot Summer nights something to wish for. 

 

its appeal to pollinators:  just about anything that crawls, hovers, or flutters will come for visits.  Grow sweet almond verbena and you'll feel like you've done a real favor for your entire animal ecosystem.

Flowering season

July to frost; much of the year at the warmest end of its hardiness range.

Culture

Full sun, any reasonable soil and watering.

How to handle it

Having any sweet almond verbena is better than having none at all, so growing the bush where it wouldn't otherwise be hardy is irresistible. 

 

If there's a chance at all it's hardy in-ground (from coastal Virginia south), growing in all possible sun in promptly-draining soil are the first helps to successful overwintering.  Next, mulch the bush heavily after hard frost, and don't cut back the wood until the plant has started sprouting in the Spring.  A little Winter-kill isn't a problem—or even a lot: The bush is so responsive it will resprout even from the roots.

 

If your climate is mild enough for the bush to get through the Winter unscathed—roughly from coastal South Carolina down to north Florida—you'll probably still want to prune heavily in the Spring to concentrate the display and fragrance of the flowers, just like you'd do with butterfly bushes.  Or you could limb the bush up to create a small tree.  Or you could do both:  Limb it up to make a tree, and then pollard the tree.  With flowers only on this season's growth, last season's growth is merely taking up space. 

 

Northern gardeners, though, will need to grow A. virgata in a container.  The bush is readily deciduous, so if it gets even a mild frost it will shed its leaves and let you store it dormant in a cool and dark spot—your basement, an unheated but frost-free garage—until it's convenient to bring it into more light and warmth.  The shrub is fast growing—or would like to be—so give it plenty of nutrition grow on: good soil, regular fertilizing, and attentive watering.  More growth, after all, means more flowers and more fragrance.  Want more of everything?  Pinch the soft tips of the branches for even bushier growth. 

 

If you have room, you could keep the plant in leaf through the Winter and move the container to a sunny spot to keep the plant active and in bloom as long as possible.  Remember, though, that this is a subtropical species, and is used to cool Winter nights and even some frosts.  So give it some down-time in the Winter.  This isn't the plant for a truly tropical environment, indoors or out, nor for peak performance year-round.

 

My sense, then, is that it's easier for both you and your sweet almond verbena if you let the plant go dormant.  Then keep it dormant in coolness and darkness for weeks or even months until you have the space indoors to start it back into growth, or your weather has become truly Spring-like and you can move the pot outside for the season.  If it's still dormant when you move it outside it will tolerate very light frosts and will know to wait until the weather's really warm before resprouting.  But if it's already in leaf indoors, wait until your weather is reliably frost-free before setting the pot outdoors.    

 

My full fantasy is to have standards of sweet almond verbena, which I can overwinter in the basement dormant, leafless, and, thanks to a quick pollarding just before the move-in, nicely compact.

Downsides

If only the plant were hardier.  Indoors, it, too, is probably as much of a martyr to white fly and spider mites as lemon verbena is (see Variants below), all the more reason to overwinter it dormant and leafless.

Variants

There aren't any cultivars, but A. virgatum's cousin A. triphylla—lemon verbena—is, in its own way, just as seductively fragrant.  This time, the fragrance is all in the leaves, and it's as powerful as a lemon scent can be that's still legal.  Even a light brush-up against lemon verbana foliage releases a massive whiff of lemon, so it's great to keep a pot of this near a pathway where you and your visitors can't help but encounter it.  The flowers themselves are neither fragrant nor showy.  In flower as well as fragrance, then A. triphylla is the yin to A. virgatum's yang: Virgatum fragrance is only in the flowers not the foliage; triphylla fragrance is only in the foliage not the flowers.

 

Lemon verbena isn't as hardy, but is equally easy in a pot.  Cut it down to stumps in early Spring; by August it will still get four to five feet tall and bushy.  It's a martyr for white fly and spider mites, so don't torture yourself or the bush by trying to overwinter it in leaf.  Let it get a hint of frost, just enough to drop the leaves, then store it cool, leafless, and bug-free until Spring.

Availability

On-line.

Propagation

By cuttings and (I suppose) layering.

Native habitat

Aloysia virgata as well as Aloysia triphylla are both native to Argentina.  Does the whole country smell delicious?  These two shrubs are just a few of the many reasons to visit and marvel at the native flora going wild.

 
 
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