Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Upper South
May, 2008
Regional Report

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Lilacs are favorite old-fashioned shrubs with an unforgettable fragrance.

The Fragrances of Spring

What a glorious spring it's been. For the most part, temperatures have topped out in the 60s and 70s, as opposed to the 80s or higher. Only a few light frosts during April. A few hard rains, but mostly they've been on the gentle side. All this has served to encourage the flowers of spring to maintain their beauty for the longest possible time. And even though I'm as stressed and addled as ever, I've taken the time to just stop and admire them. And to smell them. I choose many of the flowers in my garden for their fragrance, but this year, more than ever, their wonderful scents have been my companion.

Spring is a time of colorful flamboyance, but I encourage you to also think in terms of the many fragrances it brings. As you enjoy your own garden and think to next year, consider some of my favorites.

The heady sweetness of hyacinths are the very essence of spring. Visit any garden show in February or March, and it is hyacinths you'll smell near the entrance. Blooming in the garden from late March well into April, hyacinths are best placed near doorways where they can be readily appreciated. Some favorites include the white 'L'Innocence', 'Edelweiss', or 'Carnegie'; the yellow 'City of Haarlem', or 'Prince Henry'; salmon-colored 'Gypsy Queen'; the pink 'Pink Pearl'; and almost any of the blue ones.

Whether you call them daffodils, jonquils, or narcissus, the bottom line is there is a wide range of fragrances among the hundreds of cultivars. All the more reason to plant a wide variety of colors, shapes, and sizes. Daffodil aficionados look to Division 7, the Jonquilla Class, for the most pronounced fragrance. Outstanding varieties include 'Bahama Beach', 'Beautiful Eyes', 'Curlew', 'Curly Lace', 'Derringer', 'Fruit Cup', 'Golden Echo', 'Kedron', 'Pappy George', 'Pueblo', 'Sailboat', 'Silver Smiles', 'Stratosphere', 'Sweet Love', and 'Sweetness'.

Although the various spring-blooming phlox do not have the pervasive sweetness of the summer phlox, they still add to the bouquet. The creeping moss phlox, Phlox subulata, has a honey sweetness, while the widespread, native wild sweet-William, Phlox divaricata, has a delicate scent that is favored by anyone who has roamed the woodlands. Some cultivars to consider include 'Blue Moon', 'Blue Perfume', 'London Grove', 'Louisiana', 'Manita', 'Parksville Beach', 'Plum Perfect', and 'Laphamii'. Creeping phlox, Phlox stolonifera, is also delightful. Three popular varieties are 'Blue Ridge', 'Pink Ridge', and 'Bruce's White'.

The shy, diminutive lily-of-the-valley may not overwhelm the garden with fragrance, but upon inhaling closely, few scents compare with its exquisite and unique scent. This plant makes a great ground cover in light, open shade. Besides the standard form, consider 'Fortune's Giant', the double form, or the type with variegated leaves. The pink-flowered form is somewhat problematic in terms of scent.

For those enamored of the clove scent of carnations, the dianthus clan provides a treasure trove of varieties that start blooming in spring, with others continuing through summer. Some are more fragrant than others, so it pays to either buy them in bloom or trust the descriptions from your mail-order source. If you like clove-scented flowers, be sure to try annual stock as well, which thrives in the cool weather of spring.

The genus Iris has an incredible diversity of members in a rainbow of colors and scents. One of my delights this spring was to finally have a dwarf iris bloom that I had been nurturing for years. 'Limeline' turned out to be an unusual brown-green color, but, oh, that fragrance of chocolate! Because there are so many fragrant iris in so many colors, read catalogs and pick what sounds good to you. Or, of course, get friends to share with you. Okay, here's a few: 'Dark Passion', 'Fort Apache', 'Last Chance', 'Mary Frances', 'Old Black Magic', 'Pacific Mist', 'Scented Bubbles', 'Stepping Out', 'Thriller', 'Sweet Lena', and Iris pallida variegata.

Peonies can be of the rankest scent, scentless, or quite wonderfully fragrant, including that of pure Damask rose. Here are a few that fall into the "excellent" category: 'Kelway's Glorious', 'Baroness Schroeder', 'Mrs. Franklin Roosevelt', 'Georgina Shaylow', 'Walter Faxon', 'Myrtle Gentry', 'Big Ben', 'Phillipe Rivoire', 'Laura Desert', 'Old Siwash', 'Dr. J. H. Neeley', 'Flower Girl', 'Siloam', 'Auten's Pride', and 'Eloise'.

Many of our native deciduous azaleas have fragrant flowers, including coast azalea (Rhododendron atlanticum), sweet azalea (Rhododendron arborescens), pinxterbloom azalea (Rhododendron periclymenoides), roseshell azalea (Rhododendron prinophyllum), and swamp azalea (Rhododendron viscosum).

Clove Currant
Native to the Midwest, the clove currant (Ribes odoratum) has that signature scent proffered by a 4- to 6-foot shrub covered in yellow flowers

The viburnum clan is an especially odiferous group, and the best ones are luscious. Among the fragrant flowers that I planted around my porch, a place of prominence was chosen for Viburnum x juddii. I am rewarded each spring with the sweet scent carrying over 50 feet throughout the garden. There are a number of similar varieties, each with proponents. Don't worry, any will satisfy. Consider Viburnum bitchiuense, Viburnum x bodnantense 'Pink Dawn', Viburnum x burkwoodii, Viburnum carlesii, Viburnum x carlcephalum, Viburnum carlesii, or Viburnum farreri.

The ineffable scent of lilacs is among the most well-known fragrances of spring. Of the hundreds of varieties of this old-fashioned favorite, look to ones that are both highly fragrant and disease resistant, such as 'Blue Skies', 'Miss Canada', 'Ruhm von Horstenstein', and 'Miss Kim'.

Carolina Allspice
Not the showiest of flowers, whether in dark maroon of the native species (Calycanthus floridus) or the chartreuse of 'Athens', Carolina allspice has a scent that has variously been described as that of green tea, Damson plum preserves, or strawberries. These are adaptable shrubs growing to 8 feet tall and as wide.

Cherry, Plum, Crab Apple, Hawthorn, and More
Each of the flowering trees of spring, plus other plants that I haven't mentioned, have some quality of pleasing fragrance. Be sure to take the time to enjoy their fragrances this spring.

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