In the Garden:
Middle South
June, 2011
Regional Report

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When fragrance is called for, easy roses like 'Carefree Beauty' are indispensable in the summer garden.

A Year of Fragrance

Even without the sight of bodacious hydrangea blooms or the sound of trickling water and birdsong, I could sit on the shady bench in my front yard this morning, take a deep breath, and know I was in a garden. How could I be so sure without benefit of sight or sound?

Simple -- the secret would be unmasked by the intoxicating perfume of old-fashioned gardenia (G. jasminoides), overlaid with hints of spicy-sweet Confederate jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides) and the lemony bouquet of southern magnolia (M. grandiflora).

With a moment or two for reflection, I could even tell you the date of the year, give or take a week or so. The Confederate jasmine, covered with hundreds of star-shaped blooms just ten days ago, is now on the wane. The gardenia, meanwhile, is in its full glory and the magnolia, with loads of buds and a sprinkle of blooms, is just beginning to hit its stride.

I have a neighbor to thank for the magnolia's heavenly perfume. The gardenia and jasmine, however, are just outside my own front door. Lucky for me, the jasmine covers the brick wall next to the porch, where its scent hangs under the eaves of the house, while the strong-smelling gardenia makes its home a bit farther afield in the half-moon garden beyond the circular driveway.

The sugary fragrance of gardenia is pleasant to me but sometimes overwhelming, especially as the day warms. Like the perfumes I choose for my own use, I prefer garden scents to be clean and subtle. In fact, I find more lightly-scented flowers act as lure, enticing me closer for a better whiff.

Powerful fragrances, on the other hand, hold me at bay. Like the gardenias, I find some lilies and gingers are best enjoyed at a distance. When possible, I locate plants with heady perfumes away from windows and doors, as well as out of reach of porches, decks, and other outdoor seating areas.

I like fragrance throughout the seasons, though, and while spring is certainly the most aromatic time of year, it's not hard to pack twelve months of scented plants into any size landscape. In summer I rely on roses, lavender, lilies, and flowering tobacco. Of special note among the roses I've previously grown is 'Carefree Beauty', an easy-to-grow and disease-resistant shrub that showcases tight clusters of buds that open into rose-pink bouquets with a fruity perfume.

With limited sunlight at my new home, I'm now turning my hopes to 'Darlow's Enigma' and 'Apple Jack'. Both have single blooms and are touted as shade-tolerant, vigorous, disease-resistant, and fragrant. 'Darlow's Enigma' offers continuous bloom of its sweet-smelling, white flowers, while 'Apple Jack' takes its name from the scent of its rosy blooms, which is described as a mix of fruit and cloves.

Among warm-season annuals, however, nothing matches the beauty and perfume of 'Fragrant Cloud' flowering tobacco (Nicotiana x). Growing to 3-feet tall, this statuesque plant sends up branched stems that produce tubular flowers, each a sparkling white with a hint of green. Blooms, which remain closed throughout the day, open in late afternoon to perfume the evening garden.

In autumn I look to tea olive (Osmanthus fragrans), sweet autumn clematis (C. terniflora), and a variety of herbs such as thyme, rosemary, and bay. The season's lack of moisture intensifies the essential oils of herbs, making them even more fragrant than usual, especially when crushed under foot or brushed in passing.

Winter has its share of fragrant plants, too, perhaps even more valued for the season's general lack of blooms. Choice plants include shrub honeysuckle (Loniceria fragrantisima), winter daphne (D. odora), Japanese flowering apricot (Prunus mume), paper bush (Edgeworthia chrysantha), winter hazels (Corylopsis) and witch hazels (Hamamelis).

Which brings us back to spring and my choice for the most luscious of all fragrant plants: Viburnum x burkwoodii 'Mohawk'. I'm not the only one who thinks it's a winner. Named a Gold Medal Plant in 1993, this deciduous, disease-resistant shrub wows gardeners with clusters of dark red flower buds that open in early spring to showy white blooms. Its perfume, a strong, spicy scent reminiscent of cloves, captures the earthy essence of the season and offers an exuberant fanfare for all that is yet to come.


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