Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Upper South
July, 2009
Regional Report

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Even ordinary plants can have exceptional fragrance, such as petunias, which release their scent in the evening.

Fragrance in the Garden

Through the open door and windows of my office, the delightfully sweet scent of the appropriately named summersweet (Clethra alnifolia) makes sitting inside in front of a computer bearable. Relaxing on the porch in the evening during summer is made even better with lily-like fragrance of the flowering tobacco (Nicotiana alata) planted nearby. A variety of herbs, with their scented foliage, are just outside another door. So, literally, I have surrounded myself with fragrant plants, and there are many more throughout the garden and through all the seasons as well. I plan for fragrance and revel in it.

Of all our senses, many people consider that of smell is the most powerful force in triggering memories and emotions. Not surprisingly, the fragrance in plants isn't just for us. In the natural world, scent plays a crucial role as it facilitates interactions between flowers and their pollinators and protects plants against attacks from predators. These significant interactions plus ideas for using fragrant plants in the garden are in the newest All-Region Guide from Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Fragrant Designs (Brooklyn Botanic Garden, 2009, $9.95).

Although there are over a dozen books on gardening with fragrance in my library, this book offered some particularly interesting short essays exploring the science of scent and the connections between flowers and their pollinators in this book. At the heart of Fragrant Designs, however, are the eight detailed garden plans, including illustrations and planning guides. These include a front yard garden, wildlife-friendly street-side strip, native woodland garden, evening garden, container garden, children's garden, path, and rose garden. Over 100 fragrant annuals, perennials, vines, shrubs, and trees are described and illustrated with color photos, plus alternative selections are suggested. Garden design ideas, such as offered in this book, are obviously arbitrary, and rarely are an exact fit to our own situation, but they do provide a great starting point for the creative process.

Creating A Scented Evening Garden
There is something magical about being outdoors on a summer evening, watching fireflies blink on and off, casually talking over the day with a loved one, sipping a cool refreshing beverage, listening to the tinkling sounds of a fountain. Now, add the element of fragrant flowers, and the night is perfect.

Producing scents that lure pollinators requires energy, so many plants wait until their pollinators are active to release their fragrance. Since moths are nighttime creatures, the flowers that need them release their scents after sunset. They also tend to be tubular or funnel-shaped, accommodating the nectar-extracting proboscis of a moth, plus they are usually white or light-colored, as these are easiest to see at this time of day (for both moths and us). The scents are mainly very sweet, with sometimes a hint of lemon or almond.

Among the design tips that Fragrant Gardens offers is to site the evening garden as near the house as possible to ensure easy access. For safety, choose a level site and pave path with a light-reflecting material like gravel or oyster shells. Include candles, torches, or simple garden lights. Of course, include plenty of comfortable seating. And don't overlook the possibility of growing evening-scented plants in containers on a deck or terrace.

The plants suggested for a scented evening garden in Fragrant Gardens include angel's trumpet (Brugmansia x candida), citron daylily (Hemerocallis citrina), moonflower (Ipomoea alba), night stock (Matthiola longipetala subsp. bicornis), sweet four o'clock (Mirabilis longiflora), flowering tobacco (Nicotiana x sanderae 'Perfume Deep Purple'), pale evening primrose (Oenothera pallida), holly olive (Osmanthus heterophyllus), petunia hybrids, sweet azalea (Rhododendron arborescens), Adam's needle (Yucca filamentosa), and night phlox (Zaluzianskya capensis).

Some of these are old favorites, while others are either totally new to me or ones that I've been wanting to try. They'll definitely go on next year's shopping list. Hopefully, you'll be inspired to notice garden fragrances more than ever before and include more in your garden, too.

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