While walking through Heritage Museums & Gardens several days ago I saw a small broken branch on one of our Katsura trees, Cercidiphyllum japonicum. I cut the branch off and carried it back to the compost pile. But while I was walking, I noticed a distinct aroma. The branch, the leaves, everything about it smelled of cotton candy. I’ve noticed the aroma when walking under the tree in the early evening, but this is the first time I’ve crushed the leaves and stems and noticed it.
Katsura is a native of Asia that does well in our climate, provided it isn’t subjected to drought. It really doesn’t like dry soil, so I recommend if you’re going to commit to growing this tree you plan to water it in dry periods. But the rewards are well worth the effort. The tree has a handsome upright vase shape and the foliage is round, Cercis-like (Redbud, hence the genus name). The fall color is nice with foliage colors ranging from yellow to pale red to pink. It grows to 50 feet to 60 feet in height and has a similar spread.
In our Parking Garden there is a bed of Prairie Dropseed, Sporobolus heterolepis. Prairie Dropseed has the aroma of buttered popcorn (some folks say burnt buttered popcorn), especially in the late summer into fall. Again, what a wonderful smell. This native species is a great plant for Cape Cod gardens. It tolerates dry conditions well and loves full sun. It’s a bit slow to get established but once it does, it’s a reliable ornamental grass, 24 inches to-30 inches height and spread. The flowers rise above the foliage and are often pink to pale brown. The foliage is fine textured and refined in appearance and the plant is native to the U.S. It’s quite hardy (zone 3) and is even deer resistant. Prairie Dropseed forms round clumps that are as wide as they are tall and a bed of them can be wonderful when used with plants such as Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) or Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta). Interestingly, the seed was ground and used as flour by Native Americans and apparently, it’s quite tasty (I haven’t tried it).
Another plant that I think may deserve space in the garden is Talinum paniculatum, or Jewels of Opar. Talinum is just coming into flower in our Hydrangea Garden and always gets a lot of attention from guests in the months of August through fall. Its chartreuse foliage is mostly low, growing to maybe 6 inches in height and is quite handsome. But the real interest is the flowers which appear in late August and are usually ruby red buds opening to pink flowers on stems up to 15 inches to 18 inches in height. The flowers are small, maybe one-quater to three-eighths inches in diameter and appear to be floating above the foliage as the flower stems are quite thin and inconspicuous. The plant tolerates dry conditions and is a great companion plant with Hydrangeas or other herbaceous perennials. It’s semi-hardy and usually doesn’t make it through our winters. But it does return from seed.
Come visit Heritage Museums & Gardens to see all three of these plants!