Protect bugs to ensure beautiful, fragrant flowers

September 13, 2011

By Jane Garrison

I was down at Boehm’s Candies the other day. The weather was gray but warm, and I was feeling a little flat.

When I got out of my car, I sniffed the air to see if I could find the wonderful scent of chocolate. I couldn’t.

I couldn’t, because the smell of a fantastic rose overcame everything. It flooded the parking lot, the air, and me. It was terrific. I was uplifted just by that smell.

The sense of smell is very strong and capable of bringing back images and memories that we think are lost, including childhood experiences or maybe a fantastic meal. A nice memory can lift your mood and change a cloudy day into a sunny one. I’m not sure if you can overload your senses or not, but it would be fun to try.

It’s interesting to note that fragrant plants and flowers aren’t creating that wonderful smell for us; they are doing it for themselves. They are trying to attract pollinators so they can reproduce. Certain bees, moths, beetles and bats are drawn to distinctive odors, while birds and butterflies are more interested in flower shapes and colors.

Bats like plants with musty aromas and will actually eat flowers at night when you can’t see them do it. Remember, they eat mosquitoes too.

Beetles have a good sense of smell but are colorblind. They like fruity, spicy scents and will eat flowers as they pollinate the plants. Most are beneficial and do more good than evil.

Flies are interesting. We know they like the smell of carrion and dung, so it’s no surprise that they pollinate skunk cabbage as well as other stinky plants.

Moths are usually nighttime fliers, pollinating flowers with the sweet odors, such as evening primrose.

Native bees like sweet smells, such as those you would find on roses, lilacs and fruit trees.

Insects do so much more than just bug us. Without them we would not have many of the plants, flowers and fruits we enjoy today.

In contrast, grasses are plain, ordinary, and dull colored, so they are pollinated by the wind. The wind doesn’t care what they look like. But the insects and birds; they really care.

Some wonderful smelling plants that would bring pollinators to your garden are:

  • Vines: Star Jasmine (may freeze) or honeysuckle
  • Shrubs: rosemary, (may freeze) lavender, roses, gardenia, Mexican orange and Burkwood Viburnum
  • Herbs: thyme, marjoram, oregano and sage
  • Perennials: lily-of-the-valley, Cottage Pink, hyacinth, lily, stock, Sweet William, sweet violet

We need to appreciate our insects.

They suffered in our wet spring, which is why many people in the Issaquah area didn’t have fruit on their trees this year.

Protect the bugs by planting beautiful, smelly plants, and in doing so, make yourself happy, too.

Visit our clinics at the Issaquah Farmers Market, 9:30 a.m., and at Squak Mt. Greenhouses & Nursery, 10 a.m., every Saturday.

Jane Garrison is a local landscape architect and master gardener who gardens in glacial till on the Plateau.

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