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The Music Of Flowers: The Fragrant Garden
by Jodi DeLong
by Jodi DeLong


Writing about plants and gardening is just one part of Jodi¹s professional writing business. She¹s been a garden columnist for the Atlantic Co-operator for over five years, and last year was invited to do a biweekly column in the Halifax Chronicle Herald, Canada¹s oldest independent daily newspaper. In addition, she writes regular garden features for Saltscapes magazine, Manitoba Co-operator, Grainews, Rural Delivery, and has also had various feature articles in Canadian Gardening, Cottage Life, Complete Canadian Gardener, Aquascapes Lifestyles, and East Coast Gardener. Jodi sits on the National Board of Directors for PWAC, the Periodical Writers Association of Canada, as Atlantic Regional Director, and is also a member of the Writers Federation of Nova Scotia. When she¹s not writing, she¹s gardening, reading about gardening, photographing gardens, thinking about gardening, or ignoring the housework.

June 1, 2008

One of the most cherished books in my steadily growing library on gardening is The Scented Garden, by Eleanour Sinclair Rohde, published in 1931. There are no glossy photographs, no elegant paintings or drawings of seductive flowers to behold in this book. Some of its information is out-of-date and inaccurate. Yet I delight in this book because the author, like me, loves a fragrant garden. Mrs. Rohde writes, "Fragrance in flowers may, indeed, be described as their music, and it is none the less beautiful because it is silent."

I'm a confirmed fan of plants with great fragrances. To my mind, the best part of a plant is its fragrance, though of course there are scentless specimens throughout my gardens.

Scent is perhaps the most subjective of the senses. What smells of ambrosia to me may send another gardener shuddering away in disgust, at a flower that stinks or is overpowering. It's hard to define the fragrance of a plant securely. Take Heliotrope, a lovely annual which to me has a scent of vanilla. To others, it smells more in keeping with cherry pie, which not coincidentally is a common name for this plant.

Some plants clutch their fragrances closely to themselves during the heat of day, and wait until late afternoon or early evening before they tempt us with their luscious scents. Some species and varieties of Nicotiana are particularly known for this trait, as are the aptly named "night scented stocks" (Matthiola longipetala). These little flowers are almost negligible in the garden as far as their appearance goes. Come the early part of evening, and the nondescript flowers in shades of pinks and purples release a scent that is exquisite, and all out of proportion with their size.

Don't forget to consider foliage as part of your garden's potpourri of scents. Many geraniums are being bred with delectable fragrance in their leaves; in my office throughout the winter, I have rose, lemon, ginger, citronella and chocolate scented geraniums, although I confess that I can't smell chocolate in that particular plant. (For a closer chocolate fragrance, try chocolate cosmos, Cosmos atrosanguineus).

A wonderful groundcover is the Houttuynia cordata 'Chameleon', which is described as having a fragrance reminiscent of orange marmalade. And don't neglect aromatic herbs such as lavender, sage, thyme and rosemary.

Some garden flowers are linked in our minds with definite fragrance, such as lilies, roses and sweet peas. However, some newer cultivars, which are selected for specific characteristics such as length of bloom time, size or colour of blossom, or disease resistance, tend to be disappointing in their scent, having little or no discernible fragrance. When you're purchasing a plant, if you aren't sure if it is fragrant, ask the nursery staff, or consult with other gardeners.

With a little judicious planning, you can be awash in fragrance in your garden from the first bulbs of spring until the first snowfall covers your hardiest herbs.

A treasure trove of scents

I've included only the botanical genus name, as many different species and cultivars are available in most cases. You can always count on some catalogues who identify a plant as being particularly fragrant, or you can do the 'sniff test' at a nursery or garden centre.

Spring bulbs:

Many of the bulbs we plant in the fall give us the first burst of spring colour and have great fragrances too. Hyacinths and grape hyacinths are particularly potent, with the scent from just a few of them being noticeable from across the garden. Some varieties of tulips and narcissus or daffodils are also fragrant, but you have to check the planting information to be sure.

Lavender (Lavendula):

Scents, whether pleasant or unpleasant, can link us to specific memories. Part of the reason we have several dozen lavender plants in our yard is because the scent of lavender reminds me of my maternal grandmother, who loved Yardley's Old English lavender toiletries. I think of the scent of lavender as a cure for anything that's bothering me.

Lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria):

Perhaps the most fragrant spring bloomer, some consider lily-of-the-valley to be invasive because it will spread by underground runners. Personally, the more it spreads in our gardens the better, as I love the fragrance and the stems of dainty white bells surrounded by clear green foliage.

Wallflowers (Erysimum or Cheiranthus):

Wallflowers come in shades of yellow, orange, and rose and as biennials or perennials. They are particularly lovely in the front of a spring border, or mixed in with Forget-me-nots and spring bulbs. If deadheaded after flowering, they'll often reward with a second flush of bloom.

Daylilies (Hemerocallis):

Many daylilies have fine perfumes to go along with their robust and plentiful flowers. A particular favourite of ours is 'Root Beer' which boasts enthusiastic blooms in dark wine colour, and a scent recognizably like the soft drink. This may not be to everyone's tastes, but I love it.

Lilacs (Syringa):

Does anything say romance as beautifully as the scent of lilacs? We're fortunate to have a well grown white lilac in our front yard, where its fragrance can and does waft in our bedroom window during the peak of its blooming period. Lilacs are usually hardy and relatively problem free, and will live for many years.

Mock Orange (Philadelphus species):

From late spring until the middle of summer, the creamy white blooms of this easy growing bush give off an enchanting, citrus-like scent. There are double-blossomed varieties available now as well as the more common singles.

Pinks (Dianthus):

Also sometimes referred to as "Cloves" because of their spicy-sweet scent, Pinks are available in perennial and biennial varieties and in a wide range of colours through the pink to red end of the colour spectrum. Grow them in a sunny spot with good drainage and they'll bloom happily for weeks, particularly if deadheaded.

Peonies (Paeonia species):

Can anyone resist these lush beauties? Once planted, they require little care other than staking to prevent their heavy blooms from dragging down on the ground. Their fragrance has been described as similar to roses, honey, and even cold cream; even if they didn't have any scent at all, I'd grow them for their glorious blooms. When transplanting a new peony, make sure not to bury the crown more than an inch deep in the ground, or else the plant will not flower.


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