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Allan designs and plants flowering gardens in Montreal, Zone 5 [USDA Zone 4] .

See website, design work and favorite flowering plants at

Consultation and coaching for do-it-yourselfers is provided. Occasional emailed questions are welcome and answered free of charge. Oui, je parle francais.

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A Romantic Pink Perennial: Dictamnus Rubra

Once upon a time, when the number of perennials were fewer than now and gardeners focused on aroma as much as they did on beauty, there bloomed an almost white-flowering plant called Dictamnus alba. It was touted more for its citrus aroma at dusk than for its modest appearance.

I tried to include it in my range of late spring perennials but never succeeded. When still in its infancy and not in bloom, it remained camouflaged among the weeds and would be dug up when the beds were cleaned. Never did I feel remorse for this plant butchery. The flower color was weak and invisible from my far window while the aroma would waft only at dusk when I was never outdoors.

Many years passed. Recently, I noticed a new variety that flowered in pink called Dictamnus rubra. It was time to give this plant another chance. To encourage a better survival rate than in the past, I planted it in a less weedy location right outside my bedroom window. From that vantage point, I would monitor its daily existence throughout the summer to remind myself that it was to be nurtured.

Like its predecessor, alba, it did not perform well for the first two seasons as it was and still remains slow to establish. In year two and three, it delivered only one flowering spike in a soft and gentle shade of pink. Now, in its fourth season, it has produced two bold spires. At this rate, the perennial cannot be included in a master plan without frustration. I intend to treat it as a stand-alone specimen.

Recently, I visited web sites of other gardeners to see what the future had in store for my slow developing perennial. In the flowerbeds of colleagues, Dictamnus rubra blooms in lush groves. At the slow rate it expands in my garden, many years will pass before mine is as sensual as theirs. Perhaps that is due to the late cold Montreal springs we experience in USDA Zone 4.

Colloquially, this perennial is called Gas Plant. The sticky substance -  that coats the leaves, provides the citrus aroma and irritates the skin -  is flammable under very hot growing conditions.

At two to three feet in height and width, Dictamnus rubra can be a delightful addition to the late spring flowerbed providing the gardener has the patience to watch it develop impressiveness. It's worth the wait.

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Reader Comments (2)

Thanks for this write-up, Allan; I've added it to the list of possibilities for my new fragrant garden. Interestingly Allan Armitage describes his plants as "meager" and assumes this is because they need cool to thrive. My local nursery describes them as slow to get established but as "easy" to grow.

June 8, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJean

Great effort by you. Indeed a beautiful flowering plant. Thanks a lot for sharing with us.

June 13, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterKevin

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