By: Elisabeth Ginsburg
By the end of winter, gardeners long for the sweet scents of flowers. Some of us take solace in cut flowers from the florist or supermarket while thumbing plant catalogs and indulging in flowery daydreams. Convert those daydreams to reality by planning a few fragrant garden flowers to your beds, borders and containers.
Scents of Early Spring
Daffodils (Narcissus spp.) are the essence of spring and some varieties are delectably fragrant. ‘Campernelle’ is one of them, a multi-flowered yellow species narcissus that blooms early and gracefully. Towards the end of the daffodil season, luxurious ‘Rose of May’, a double-flowered white bloomer, lives up to its name, exuding a sweet scent.
The legendary courtesan, Madame Pompadour, loved hyacinths (Hyacinthus orientalis) and nearly three centuries later, they still carry the fragrance banner into mid-spring, with stocky heads of highly scented florets in an array of Easter egg colors. At about the same time, intensely fragrant lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis) scent shaded places with their unique “muguet des bois” aroma, long a favorite of perfume makers. If you already grow lily-of-the valley, dig up a budded clump, pot it up with some Fafard Natural and Organic Potting Soil and enjoy the fragrance indoors while the flowers last. Afterwards, return the clump to the garden.
Late Spring Fragrance
In pots or trained against walls or trellises, old-fashioned annual sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus) send out a ravishing scent. The maroon and purple Cupani types are among the most fragrant, but all varieties please the nose while tantalizing the eye with delicate orchid-like flowers. Get a jump on the season by starting sweet pea seeds indoors in trays or cell packs filled with Fafard Natural and Organic Seed Starter.
By late spring, fragrant garden peonies (Paeonia lactiflora) command center stage, with tall stems, handsome dissected leaves and big, bountiful flowers. Older varieties, like the rose-pink double, ‘Sarah Bernhardt’, offer winning fragrance and make excellent cut flowers as well. Well-tended peony plants will live for decades in the garden.
Summer Scent Extravaganza
Sweet scents abound in summer. Biennial stocks (Matthiola incana) are sun lovers that grow one to three feet tall and bear colorful, dense clusters of spice-scented flowers. Carnations (Dianthus caryophyllus) echo that clove fragrance, with familiar ruffled flowers in single and bi-colored combinations of reds, whites, yellows, pinks and purples. Both stocks and carnations can be grown from seed started indoors eight to 12 weeks before the last frost date, but are also available from nurseries in starter packs.
Standing tall at the back of the early summer border, nothing perfumes the air like Oriental lilies (Lilium spp.). Hybridized from several different Asian lily species, Orientals grow three to four feet high and may require staking. The effort is worth it to support the enormous scented trumpets that are borne in profusion on mature plants. Freckled pink ‘Stargazer’ and pristine white ‘Casa Blanca’ are among the best-known Oriental lilies.
Fragrant night-blooming plants open their petals in the evening hours to attract pollinators. One of the best is flowering tobacco (Nicotiana alata), which bears long tubular flowers that flare into white or yellow-green trumpets. Look for the fragrant species form, rather than unscented hybrids, and plant near seating areas or paths where evening visitors can enjoy them.
Fragrance is harder to find as the growing season winds down, but plants that provide it are worth seeking out. Perfume shady spots with cimicifuga, sometimes known as black cohosh or bugbane (Actaea racemosa). Rising four to six feet tall, cimicfuga bears elegant, deeply dissected foliage. Sweet-smelling white flowerheads, each one bearing scores of tiny fragrant blooms, wave high above the leaves in the early fall.
Dahlias are great garden and cutting flowers, but are not known for fragrance. It pays to plant the few that combine beauty and scent. ‘Honka’ is one. Thriving in sunny spots, the single flowers sport eight narrow yellow petals apiece. The combination of beauty, scent and hardiness won ‘Honka’ the Royal Horticultural Society’s coveted Award of Garden Merit.
Location is Everything
Position fragrant flowering plants strategically throughout the garden and combine them with a selection of shrubs, trees and foliage plants that also exude distinctive scents. Even weeding seems easier when the fragrance of flowers hangs in the air.
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