Heliotropium ‘Fragrant Delight’

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Heliotropium ‘Fragrant Delight’ is a garden artist of a different scent

We’ve been growing Heliotropium for a while, but it is a plant that flies under the radar for a lot of people. It’s a specialist that we bring in to do a specific job, like an electrician or a roofer. In this case, Heliotrope offers its memorable—and surprising—scent of vanilla-tinged cherry pie to a garden bed or arrangement. Of all the cultivars, we like ‘Fragrant Delight’ the best because of its reliable fragrance and textured purple flowers, as well as its ability to deliver the goods in the summer months. To expand past color, add this plant to your display, bench, or project.

If you know the wind patterns of your garden center or public garden, you can entice customers with the welcoming fragrance of warm cherry pie as they approach the site. Alternatively, you can add an aromatic undernote around entrances, walkways, plazas, or other high-traffic areas. In many ways, Heliotrope is a garden icon with serious chops when it comes to heirloom credentials. Victorians and Edwardians used its essence as an ingredient for perfumes. Oldtimers are sure to welcome its appearance, and the new generation will get to experience its unexpected scent for the first time.

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Dark purple shades and an intriguing cherry pie fragrance


Although the plant was sourced from the Pacific-facing mountains of Peru and northern Chili, it was enthusiastically adopted by the Victorians. They loved scented flowers, so Heliotropium became a staple of their gardens and they planted it everywhere. Interest in the plant spread across Europe, so you can still find Heliotropium in European public gardens, German churchyards and British estate gardens. Although its popularity has waned in the postwar years, Heliotropium never went away—it still maintains a steady, if quiet, presence overseas.

This plant is a type of Borage, so it shares many common characteristics with that European herb. Regarding the name Heliotrope—it comes from the Greek, and refers to the flower’s habit of turning through the day to follow the sun.

One source of Heliotrope’s popularity is the stem—it’s hardy enough that the plant can be trained into a variety of standards, and the Victorians took advantage of this. Heliotrope’s beauty became part of the romantic backdrop of their cottage gardens and enhanced the herbaceous borders of their grand parks. This trait also has great appeal among today’s Maker community, DIY folks, and a more modern Victorian phenomenon: steampunk gardening.

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A budded flowerhead just cracking open


Still, it’s the scent that pulls people in first. Long-time readers know that we like fragrant plants, such as Aromatica Nemesia and Perfume Nicotiana, and ‘Fragrant Delight’ offers that sweet smell in a short summer plant. Heliotrope’s scent is a handy trait for summer container work, since it only takes one or two plants to give an entire arrangement a pleasant undertone of fragrance.

Heliotropium is a particularly good mixer. Plants are small and open enough to work inside complex arrangements, and they bring their A-game: deep purple color, bunched heads of florets, starry flowers, and that dash of purple in the leaves. Place it inside the thriller position but team it up with additional material—taller filler or another thriller—to keep the visual oomph going.

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A leaf cluster looking down the stem—a flower bud is at the very tip


In the garden, the Heliotropium plant is loose and open with tall stems. It grows as a tender sub-shrub, or maybe a shrubby perennial, but in Cincinnati the frost will kill it at the season’s end. Flowers appear in clusters or sprays at the tip ends, reminiscent of forget-me-nots, but different stem lengths mean that flowers appear visually up and down the planting.

Foliage is very dark green and stems are strong, so you can plant ‘Fragrant Delight’ in thin, narrow areas without flopping as an issue. Prune back the leggy stems and, if you want even more blooms, cut back the spent blossoms. Its shrubby nature also means that deer will leave this plant alone—a big deal when woods are nearby. ‘Fragrant Delight’ likes sun but it can be nudged into partial sun areas. Soil needs to be the typical garden variety: not too wet and not too dry, but lightly tended.

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A flower cluster emerging from the stem tip


If your community is craft- or houseplant-oriented, you can dig up the plant, clean off any autumn damage, and set it into fresh potting soil for display indoors. Those with snipping skills can go an extra step into topiary or bonsai. To create something along the lines of a rose standard, select the strongest and straightest stem, prune away the leaves and allow the top to become bushy, shaping it into a round form over time; the result is a very fragrant mini-tree for home or garden. ‘Fragrant Delight’ turns out to be a surprisingly versatile plant for the hands-on garden artist or craftsperson.

When overwintering the plant, keep it out of cold drafts and away from doors that let in the frosty weather. A slow-acting plant food should be added to the potting soil.

Heliotropium ‘Fragrant Delight’ is available in the 8-inch pot.

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Flower buds are very fuzzy before they deploy into flower clusters