When Shakespeare wrote the immortal words, "that which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet," I'll bet he was inspired by the aroma of the gardens and woods that surrounded his hometown, Stratford-upon-Avon. But, of course, roses were only a metaphor for plants that stimulate your olfactory senses.
When I design gardens and landscapes, fragrance as well as visual stimuli are major considerations. While most of us respond to the lovely aroma of flowers like lilacs, hyacinths and roses, there are many other creative ways to bring fragrance into your garden. The flowers and foliage of many plants can perfume your environment.
Other plants that visitors will search out on your property because of their fragrance are sweetbox (Sarcococca hookeriana) and holly trees. Many hollies have a scent that surprises people, particularly when flowers aren’t noticeable. Sweetbox is a low growing woody plant that has small insignificant looking blooms in late March to early April that emit a sweet fragrance in spite of their dainty size. In fact, they’re cleverly hidden behind foliage so you can barely see them. The enjoyment is in the perfume that exudes from its small, mostly hidden flowers.
Fragrance can provide a special effect in the form of flowers or foliage. Walking in Rock Creek Park, I enjoy bruising the leaves of spicebush (Lindera benzoin) whenever I see one. It has a refreshing, spicy, fruity odor, is native to the mid-Atlantic region and also the habitat for the spicebush swallowtail butterfly.
Later in the spring and summer I enjoy blossoms on Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica). It is also native to the eastern United States and was introduced in 1744. A low growing, long flowering plant, it has wonderfully fragrant flowers in late spring/early summer and grows to about four to six feet in height, in sun or partial shade, in wet or dry soil. Its display of maroon fall foliage can hold for weeks.
‘Lemon Drop,’ a Mezitt hybrid, introduced by Weston Nursery, is a deciduous azalea and another native bred plant that has an outstanding sweet citrus smell that is a knock out for its fragrance and ability to attract butterflies to its nectar rich flowers in late spring to early summer.
Edge a flowerbed that has been sited where it will receive lots of sun with lavender (Lavandula angustifolia). Foliage brushed or bruised between your fingers will produce a “lavender” scent even in winter. Do the same with rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Arp’) that is hardy in the Washington, DC area, in protected sunny locations, and you might even get a shrub that flowers in late winter and other seasons as well.
Another plant I enjoy almost
exclusively for its short-lived unbelievably fragrant flowers is Koreanspice
viburnum. Beautiful blossoms last only about two weeks in April (this year beginning
in March), and then interest is gone except for providing fuzzy foliage. It's a
compact five-foot tall, disease resistant shrub. Yet, these two weeks of pinkish/white
flowers are the closest you can get to a perfect fragrance.
|Rosemary 'Arp' Flower Clusters|
Search for sweet smelling flowers as they open this spring. You will notice that many have their own unique scents. But, be careful and make sure you look for stinging insects before you sniff.
© 2012 Joel M. Lerner
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