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Fragrant Flowers for the Garden

Lilac tree blossoms

Lilac TREE blossoms in Spring, exceedingly fragrant

My new low maintenance, pollinator garden is full of fragrant flowers that bloom over the course of the season. I confess I did not choose these flowers on purpose. However I am really happy that so many fragrant plants have additional benefits. My fragrant flowers require little care and welcome pollinators.

Some fragrances, like lilac, take me back to my early childhood on a Vermont farm. When we moved to Heath in 1979 there were already old fragrant lilacs in place, but I added the gorgeous fragrant Beauty of Moscow lilac with it double white flowers touched with pink. I also added the deep purple lilac, Yankee Doodle, so I could have some range of color. Lilacs are not only beautiful and fragrant, they are dependable. Think of all those lilacs still growing on abandoned farmsteads.

Beauty of Moscow double lilac

Beauty of Moscow, double pink to white lilacs

All my shrub lilacs are Syringa vulgaris. There are a number of other species including the small Miss Kim, S. pubescens subsp. patula, as well as the Chinese lilac, S. chinensis, with pinky-purple blossoms and the small Boomerang lilac, S. x ‘Penda’ which blooms twice a year.

When we bought our Greenfield house, we found a very different and unexpected lilac. We have a lilac tree. It is a syringa tree, not an overgrown lilac bush. The tree is covered with large lacy white flowers and a fragrance that surprises and mystifies the people who walk by in June. People tend not to look up at the trees when the air is perfumed. The fragrant air remains a mystery to many. Still, I have noticed that there are other lilac trees in the area, and an apartment building near us has planted several lilac trees on the grounds.  The fragrance is not exactly like the lilac bush, but it is wonderful.

In the shade of our lilac tree we also got a Pieris japonica, sometimes called Lily of the Valley shrub. It is evergreen and produces cascades of small white flowers in May. It is not very fussy. I prune away the spent blossoms and any straggly branches in the late spring. That is the limit of my care. In our yard I do not need to worry about having sufficiently acid soil.

Pieris japonica

Fragrant Pieris japonica

In a slightly sunnier part of our front yard I planted Deutzia, a small shrub that I’m hoping will not grow more than two feet tall, but will give me the promised four foot spread. In the spring there are sprays of tiny white fragrant flowers which last two or three weeks.

Last fall I planted a daffodil border in front of the low growing evergreens. I was late in my planning so I didn’t have many choices of daffodil. For those who think ahead there are some especially fragrant daffodils. Narcissus “Actaea” is a white daff with a golden cup trimmed with red. This is a simple old variety that I love and always have in my garden. Narcissus “Carlton” is a big golden daff with a large fringed cup and great fragrance. It is also a good spreader, if you want to have more and more gold. Narcissus “Replete” is a glamorous and fragrant double daff with pinky-coral ruffles in the center and double white petals behind.

In my sunny South Border, I did specifically plant Korean spice viburnam. Anyone who has spent any time at Greenfield Community College in late spring will be familiar with the fragrance that perfumes the air at that season. The point is made that if you can plant several of a fragrant plant, you will not have to stick your nose in the blossoms to revel in its perfume.

Calycanths, Carolina summersweet

Calycanthus, Carolina summersweet

In the backyard garden I have planted Clethra, also known as summersweet and Calycanthus, called Carolina allspice.  Clethra is probably more familiar with its upright, white or pink panicles of fragrant white flowers. In my garden it is very happy to get some shade and a moist, heavy soil. Calycanthus has very unusual deep wine red, or even brown blossoms, that last from April to June. When the flowers finish they are replaced with brownish seed capsules that will last all winter.

There are fragrant annuals like heliotrope and flowering tobacco. I am planning to try planting stocks, Matthiola Incana, in my garden this summer. Stocks are about two and a half feet tall and bloom in a large range of color from white to yellow and shades of pink and red. Their scented flowers bloom in the evening. They are very tender and sensitive to frost. They can be seeded when frost is no longer a danger, or started indoors to be transplanted outdoors when it is reliably warm.

I am not very good with houseplants, especially in the summer when I prefer my flowers outside. However, I’d love to have a blooming gardenia in the house, or in a carefully chosen spot outdoors when the weather is fine. Scent is so evocative. I remember the days when I was about 15 and could take the train into New York City by myself to see a Broadway show. Back then you could buy a gardenia corsage on the street corner for fifty cents. Those fragrant gardenias on my shoulder were a great way to make me feel adult and sophisticated. Now, when I smell gardenias, I am carried back to my walk from Grand Central up to 42nd Street, finding my theater for Teahouse of the August Moon or Auntie Mame. I can still feel sophisticated and ready for a show.

 

Between the Rows  February 23, 2019

 

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