Garden Design: How to Create a Lemon Garden

| June/July 1996

  • The flowers of an Arnold Promise witch hazel guarantee that the lemon garden has yellow accents even in late winer.
    Photograph by J. G. Strauch, Jr.
  • Spring brings the delicate colors of Butter and Sugar Siberian iris.
    Photograph by J. G. Strauch, Jr.
  • This perennial foxglove has lemon in its color scheme, not its fragrance.
    Photograph by J. G. Strauch, Jr.
  • Yarrows have some of the yellowest flowers. This one is Coronation Gold.
    Photograph by J. G. Strauch, Jr.
  • There are few finer lemon scents than that of a lemon verbena leaf.
    Photograph by Geraldine Adamich Laufer
  • Bold and sturdy black-eyed Susans add a splash of gold to the garden in summer.
    Photograph by J. G. Strauch, Jr.
  • Color, form, and scent combine in this enticing lemon-scented pelargonium, a variegated Pelargonium crispum.
    Photograph by J. G. Strauch, Jr.
  • Sunshine warms the leaves of golden lemon thyme (Thymus ¥ citriodorus ‘Aureus’).
    Photograph by J. G. Strauch, Jr.

• Design Plans: Grow These Lemon-Scented Herbs In Your Lemon Garden 

• Sidebar: Geri's Lemon Balm Wine Cooler 

A few years ago, I decided to plant a perennial garden that played with the warm side of the color wheel—golds, yellows, chartreuses. Flowers with warm, brilliant ­colors are compelling and invite the ­visitor closer, and yellow makes a ­particularly bold show. I collected a number of bulbs and yellow-flowered perennials for color interest, dividing and transplanting them from elsewhere in the yard or collecting them from friends. I planted them in a pleasing border arrangement according to color, texture, and form. To ensure a long show, I included plants that bloomed in each of the seasons. One of the most important considerations in the design of this garden, and the one that soon took precedence over all the others, was fragrance. Lemon-scented plants seemed a logical extension of the idea that I’d started with.

It’s unthinkable for me not to include herbs in any garden: a flower garden without herbs is like a kiss without a mustache. The desire to combine lemon scents with lemon colors is what sent me looking for herbs to add to the ornamentals in this bright border. I started with lemon balm and lemon thyme, and then I began to explore the other possibilities. Before I knew it, I had assembled more than twenty-five different lemon-scented herbs and novelty plants. The quest for lemon fragrances had become the overriding obsession, and the bed became my lemon garden.

Join me for a trip through the seasons in my lemon garden.

Lemon Gardens: Winter

In my temperate Atlanta climate, winter is a part of the gardening year. Yellow pansies and vivid orange and yellow wallflowers continue to bloom from fall plantings. By January, Rijnveld’s Early Sensation daffodil adds golden rays of color, and February Gold follows soon after. Blond Cream Beauty and vivid yellow Goldilocks crocuses poke up in late January, while yellow dwarf snapdragons overwinter and bloom as the days get warmer, forming mats each a foot in diameter. As for shrubs, the honey-scented, cheery yellow flower clusters of Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium) contribute one of the strongest fragrances in the late-winter garden, and the ribbonlike, sulfur yellow petals of the witch hazels Hamamelis mollis ‘Pallida’ and H. ¥ intermedia ‘Arnold Promise’ offer contrasting texture. Those of H. m. ‘Pallida’ are ­sweetly fragrant.

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