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Notes from a Plant Nut

Lisa Van CleefLisa Van Cleef's life mission is to spark a passion for plants in people. Like a modern-day Johnny Appleseed, Lisa sows the seeds that inspire curiosity and a love for the plant world. A long-time SFBG Nursery volunteer, she wrote the Green Gardener column for the SFGate, has worked with the Conservatory of Flowers and The Nature Conservancy. Today, she supports the Society's marketing efforts.

Take A Sniff:
The Garden of Fragrance Heats Up in Summer


Tagetes lemmonii
Tagetes lemmonii

Pelargonium and Salvia
Pelargonium and Salvia

Salvia spathacea
Salvia spathacea



There's no better place to be on a sun-drenched summer afternoon than the Garden of Fragrance. The sun has warmed the plants throughout the day and their scents deliciously intoxicate the air. While our summers are notoriously fog-filled, head to the Garden of Fragrance when the sun breaks through for a perfumed stroll.

This garden was built in 1965 primarily for the visually impaired. The plants in this garden are wonderfully fragrant and textural. Touch each and every plant in this garden for a sensual treat you can feel and smell.

Something for Predators, Pollinators and Us

These plants are packed with oils that either lure a pollinator or put off a predator. If the leaves are scented, there's a good chance that the purpose of the smell is to ward off hungry, leaf-chewing insects. If the flower has a scent, it's probably to attract bees, butterflies, or other pollinators who will move the pollen from flower to flower so seeds can be made.

Don't be afraid to use your hands in this garden. Touching the leaves helps release their scent. Smell your hands after touching the cascading rosemary, scented geraniums and lemon verbena. You'll understand why explorers traveled the globe seeking fragrances.

There's the native salvia, Salvia spathacea, sometimes referred to as the 'cowboy cologne' since it was a handy way to freshen up while riding through the chaparral. Also take a whiff of the Mexican marigld, Tagetes lemonii, a marigold from Mexico that was used as a design element on the Mayan temples. It's got a lovely lemony smell that's practically edible.

This garden is densely planted and with every step you'll encounter something to smell or touch. There's a sweet little grassy area that's perfect for sitting and taking it all in.

Download the map to the Garden of Fragrance and listen to the podcast. It's absolutely intoxicating.

Back to July 2010 newsletter >>