How to grow a choco­late gar­den

For a truly unique Mother’s Day gift, try choco­late in its non-calorific form.

NZ Lifestyle Block - - Contents - Words Jane Wrig­glesworth

If you like choco­late,ate you’re go­ing to love choco­late flow­ers. Not the ed­i­ble type, but real, choco­late-scented blooms. Cho­co­holics love them. Come Mother’s Day and pun­ters at farm­ers’ mar­kets and re­tail out­lets will grav­i­tate to­wards them. Sniff them out to grow on your block and you could make a tidy lit­tle profit on the side.

1 Choco­late cos­mos While the com­mon an­nual cos­mos ( Cos­mos bip­in­na­tus) has no dis­cern­ing scent, the peren­nial Cos­mos atrosan­guineus has a dis­tinc­tive choco­late one, and its deep bur­gundy flow­ers look as vel­vety as choco­late too. The scent is stronger in the af­ter­noon when the warmth of the sun has had time to awaken its sweet aroma.

The flow­ers ap­pear on long stems over sum­mer and au­tumn, which is when you’ll see plants in gar­den cen­tres, es­pe­cially around Mother’s Day.

It used to be that the only plants avail­able were ster­ile which meant no vi­able seeds could be pro­duced. The plant was thought to be ex­tinct in its na­tive Mex­ico and any new plants were prop­a­gated from ster­ile clones. But re­cently a sin­gle plant was dis­cov­ered with a few fer­tile seeds, and breed­ing work began.

Since last year it has been pos­si­ble to pur­chase choco­late cos­mos seeds via Eg­mont Seeds and King Seeds, al­beit in small quan­ti­ties (5 seeds per packet) and for a higher price than other flower seeds, but it’s exciting that seeds from this plant are now avail­able.

I’ve grown choco­late cos­mos many times. Even in the rel­a­tive warmth of Auck­land I’ve man­aged to kill them off over win­ter. They need warmth. Most cut flower grow­ers over­seas grow them as an­nu­als.

If pro­duc­ing for Mother’s Day here in NZ, you’re go­ing to need to grow them in light and tem­per­a­ture-con­trolled green­houses. Re­search in Eng­land has shown that they can be forced to flower out of sea­son when grown in green­houses.

Long days (17 hours of il­lu­mi­na­tion) and tem­per­a­tures be­tween 17-21°C will pro­duce bigger flow­ers and stock­ier plants, and flow­er­ing is ad­vanced by 33 days than those grown in 8 hours of light.

When sow­ing seeds, emer­gence was found to be greatly af­fected by tem­per­a­ture.

“A first ex­per­i­ment showed the time of emer­gence of over­win­tered plants raised from mi­cro-prop­a­gated tu­bers was highly re­lated to tem­per­a­ture, but not pho­tope­riod, such that at 11.5°C shoots emerged 17 days later than those at 27.2°C.” Source: En­vi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tion of flow­er­ing and growth of Cos­mos

atrosan­guineus, Kanel­los and Pear­son (2000)

Mixed bou­quets and pot­ted plants are a draw at gar­den cen­tres and farm­ers’ mar­kets for Mother’s Day. Imag­ine the ex­tra pull of a choco­late-scented plant.

2 On­cid­ium Sharry Baby ‘Sweet Fra­grance’ Pos­si­bly the most well-known of all On­cid­ium or­chids is the choco­late-scented Sharry Baby. The flow­ers are small, about 3cm high by 2cm wide, but each flower spike can hold 50 flow­ers or more. They have a def­i­nite choco­late scent, which makes it a true nov­elty in the orchid world.

There are sev­eral va­ri­eties of Sharry Baby, but one of the most pop­u­lar is Sweet Fra­grance. It pro­duces dozens of cherry-red flow­ers with white lips around May – just in time for Mother’s Day – then again six months’ later. But the plant of­ten blooms spo­rad­i­cally through­out the year, each flower spike last­ing six to eight weeks.

These plants should be grown in­doors in dif­fused light. While more light will pro­duce more scent, you need to avoid di­rect sun­light or the leaves will burn. Ac­cord­ing to some, the pink blooms of On­cid­ium or­nithorhynchum also smell of choco­late, but Ross from Tuck­ers Orchid Nurs­ery in Auck­land reck­ons it smells more like pink ic­ing. Both or­chids are avail­able from Tuck­ers Orchid Nurs­ery.

3 Ca­ly­can­thus While Ca­ly­can­thus floridus (Carolina all­spice) is the main species grow­ing world­wide, here in New Zealand it’s Ca­ly­can­thus Hart­lage Wine (a cross be­tween Ca­ly­can­thus chi­nen­sis and Ca­ly­can­thus floridus) that is more com­monly avail­able. Oc­ca­sion­ally you’ll find the white ver­sion Venus too.

All have el­e­gant mag­no­lia-like flow­ers with a hint of choco­late, al­though it’s the fo­liage rather than the flower that has the bet­ter scent.

“Yes, the flower too – if you catch a nice mild hu­mid night you will get a hint of it – but it tends to be in the fo­liage, the bark and the stems,” says De­nis Hughes of Blue Moun­tain Nurs­eries in Otago.

‘Hart­lage Wine’ has great au­tumn colour, too, says De­nis, at least if you live in the cooler re­gions. In warmer ar­eas, like Auck­land (you can see C. chi­nen­sis and C. Hart­lage Wine at the Auck­land Botan­i­cal Gar­dens), the but­tery au­tumn colour won’t be as spec­tac­u­lar. As for the flow­ers? “They start flow­er­ing about Novem­ber, or in a re­ally shel­tered site at the end of Oc­to­ber,” says De­nis. “You get your main flush in late spring-early sum­mer, and if you’ve got them grow­ing in the right spot they’ll flower right through sum­mer, up to March.”

The flow­ers typ­i­cally won’t be around for Mother’s Day, but both the flow­ers and the fo­liage are ideal for cut­ting. The fo­liage makes a great filler too.

“It flow­ers on the new wood,” says De­nis. “Feed­ing makes a big dif­fer­ence, and prun­ing does too. You can do a hy­drangea trick. That is, thin out the old rub­bish and en­cour­age new growth to come through. That also stops it get­ting too large.”

Ca­ly­can­thus grows in sun or part-shade.

4 Choco­late-scented pelargo­nium Florists adore scented pelargo­ni­ums (of­ten called scented gera­ni­ums), but it’s the fo­liage rather than the flow­ers that are more use­ful in bou­quets. The scented leaves are ideal for bulk­ing out ar­range­ments and pro­vide ad­di­tional sniff fac­tor for the per­fume lover. There are many forms of scented pelargo­nium: rose, le­mon and gin­ger, among oth­ers.

Minette Tonoli of Mead­owsweet Herbs in Auck­land grows the choco­late-scented pelargo­nium.

“Be­ing a South-african im­port my­self, I find a cer­tain affin­ity with the scented pelargo­ni­ums. Like me, these lovely plants seem very happy to root and grow in New Zealand soil. Hav­ing most of the com­monly known ones in my gar­den al­ready, like le­mon, nut­meg, rose and cit­ronella, and hav­ing pre­vi­ously had the choco­late-mint pelargo­nium, when I saw the lit­tle plant in a gar­den cen­tre with a tag that read ‘choco­late scented’, I had to try it.”

How­ever, the choco­late per­fume is not overly strong.

“It re­ally only has a very sub­jec­tive choco­late fra­grance, and per­haps only be­cause the name sug­gests it. But, us­ing your imag­i­na­tion, there is a def­i­nite hint of some­thing dark, per­haps bit­ter­sweet, and deep in the leaf scent. Un­like pep­per­mint and rose pelargo­ni­ums, which lend a soft trace of their fra­grance in cus­tards, creams and bak­ing, this choco­late-scented plant does not quite lift to the same level as a culi­nary herb. I still use the pretty pink flow­ers as an ed­i­ble though, and en­joy the not-quite-choco­late-scent when I brush past it in the gar­den.”

In an over­all bou­quet of choco­late flow­ers, how­ever, the fo­liage is com­ple­men­tary. When pick­ing the leaves, choose hard­ened rather than soft stems or they will wilt quickly.

5 Clema­tis mon­tana var. wilsonii They may be small, but the flow­ers of Clema­tis mon­tana var. wilsonii have a pow­er­ful choco­late per­fume. They start with a honey-vanilla aroma, says Clema­tis grower Peer Sorensen of Yaku Nurs­ery in Waitara, then change to a de­li­cious hot choco­late late in flow­er­ing.

This clema­tis pro­duces its flow­ers – creamy white with yel­low an­thers – from late spring to early sum­mer, so it’s not a con­tender for Mother’s Day. While many sum­mer-flow­er­ing clema­tis can be pruned for re­peat flow­er­ing, the mon­tanas can­not, as they only flower on ripe wood.

But Clema­tis mon­tana var. wilsonii will cer­tainly bloom for Christ­mas, where a choco­late-scented plant is just the ticket for choco­late lovers.

Vig­or­ous and easy to grow, plants can grow up to 10m high, so they are best trained over per­go­las or fences.

6 Physo­car­pus Shady Lady

For choco­late-coloured fo­liage, try Physo­car­pus. This se­duc­tive plant is one of the best for plump­ing out bou­quets. There is no scent, but the cut fo­liage can last up to two weeks in the vase.

Over­seas, Di­ablo is the cul­ti­var to grow. In New Zealand we have Shady Lady, a deep-coloured cul­ti­var that was de­vel­oped here. It has ma­hogany leaves with olive un­der­sides and red stems, and the bonus of gor­geous cream, pom­pom flow­ers in sum­mer, which also last well in the vase.

Shady Lady is a hardy, de­cid­u­ous shrub and pretty low main­te­nance. It will grow in warm and cold ar­eas, sun or shade. When young make sure you pro­vide ad­e­quate wa­ter, but once es­tab­lished it will with­stand drought.

The harder you cut these plants, the more leaves they will pro­duce.

sniff these plants out to grow on your block and you could make a tidy lit­tle profit

Sharry Baby in flower. Ca­ly­can­thus floridus Ca­ly­can­thus floridus

Pelargo­nium Pelargo­nium Clema­tis mon­tana var. wilsonii

shady lady was de­vel­oped in NZ, and we get a gor­geous bonus of pom­pom flow­ers in sum­mer.

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