In the Garden:
Upper South
April, 2005
Regional Report

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1756

Fragrant pink flowers mark 'Josee' lilac, which is unusual among lilacs in that it reblooms during the summer.

A Scentsational Spring

As garden writer Helen Van Pelt Wilson has remarked, "If our gardens today were more often planned as fragrant retreats and our rooms were frequently perfumed with bowls of spicy pinks, bunches of aromatic herbs, vases of fragrant roses, and jars of potpourri, perhaps we would not have to depend so much on tranquilizers to hold us together in this frantic, fast-paced world. For there is sound evidence of the therapeutic value, physical and emotional, of sweet odors."

More than ever this spring, exhausted and sometimes saddened by the vagaries of life, I have come to appreciate the charms and benefits of the many scents my garden provides. Some are ubiquitous, such as that of freshly turned soil, dark hardwood mulch, or newly mown lawn. Many others are by design -- plants that I have specifically chosen for their scent. The fragrant trees and shrubs started blooming in late winter, beginning with the earliest witch hazels (Hamamelis species and cultivars), followed by winter honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima), spicebush (Lindera benzoin), both ornamental and fruit-producing Ribes species and cultivars, fothergilla, magnolias, apples, pears, crab apples, hawthorns, and Carolina allspice (Calycanthus floridus). The following two groups are my own personal favorites for pervasive fragrance in spring.

Spice Viburnums
Most rewarding this year has been the Judd viburnum. One of a number of fragrant plants surrounding my wraparound porch, the Judd viburnum (Viburnum x juddii) is in its third spring. Once a small, scraggly little plant, this year it finally produced enough flowers to perfume a wide radius. There are several spring-blooming, fragrant viburnums, including V. carlesii, V. bitchiuense, and V. x carlcephalum, but the Judd viburnum is recommended by tree-and-shrub guru, Michael Dirr. A cross between V. carlesii and V. bitchiuense, the Judd viburnum has a full and rounded growth habit, with a mature height of 6 to 8 feet. It is resistant to bacterial leaf spot and highly adaptable to a wide range of climates.

Lilacs
The dominant, sweet-smelling, spring-blooming clan is that of the lilac. Variously described as "the very heart and soul of memory" and "the most memory-stirring of all the fragrances," the scent of lilacs wafting on spring breezes is one that no gardener should do without. There are dozens of species, and hundreds of hybrids and cultivars, varying in season of bloom, plant size, and flower color.

Of the French Hybrids, the most consistently fragrant are the doubles, with the pure white 'Mme. Lemoine' considered the best. Among the late-blooming hybrids, the pale blue 'Miss Kim' brings scent into the heart of June and grows to about 6 feet tall. For a different look, consider the cut-leaf lilac, Syringa laciniata, with its ferny foliage providing interesting texture in addition to the lavender-blue flowers.

Bulbs and Perennials
Most of the fragrant spring-blooming bulbs are past by now, but don't forget to plant some hyacinths and daffodils this fall for next spring. By this time of year, the gardener looks to carnations and pinks, certain peonies, phlox, and iris for fragrance. But most important and deserving of being in every garden is at least a small patch of that most nostalgic of fragrant flowers, the lily-of-the-valley.


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