Stop to Smell the Flowers
Most enjoyable among my gardening experiences are those involving the sense of smell. At no time other than spring is the garden such a treasury of olfactory experiences. Spring gradually merges into summer, and one plant after another blooms and adds to the miscellany of pleasurable scents.
The clove-like spiciness of Confederate jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides
) greets me every time I venture outside. Hardy in Zones 8-10, this evergreen vine uses its holdfast roots to clamber 40 feet up tree trunks or other supports. Even though the Confederate jasmine can climb very high, it is easily pruned to any desired height. Pinwheel-shaped, one-inch white flowers bloom in April and May. Despite its name, this plant is not a true jasmine nor does it originate in the American Confederacy. However, the vine is well adapted to the American South and other similarly moderate climates.
Banana shrub (Magnolia figo
) is another scented wonder. Growing to about 15 feet tall and bearing multiple branches, the banana shrub is actually more like a small tree than a shrub. Diminutive magnolia-like white flowers edged in dark red emerge from one-inch, cigar shaped, fuzzy buds in early spring. This evergreen member of the magnolia family is hardy in Zones 7 to 10 and appreciates acidic, well-drained, fertile soil. Although I enjoy the scent of the flowers, the scale insects that infest the foliage are quite persistent and hard to control. Cultural oil sprays and treatment with systemic insecticides have helped somewhat, but I have never quite managed to rid the banana shrub of these pests. Nevertheless, I continue to enjoy the banana-like scent of the flowers.
Sweet olive’s (Osmanthus fragrans
) intoxicating fragrance perfumes the whole backyard. Most usually seen at 10 to 12 feet tall, the shrub is capable of growing up to 20 feet tall. Evergreen glossy leaves provide the best possible background for the small white flower clusters that bloom in axillary clusters sporadically in cool seasons. Orange, gold, or yellow flowers are borne on cultivars and varieties of the species. (See pictures at bottom of page.)
Native azaleas (Rhododendron
spp.) not only add to the beauty of landscapes; they add to the garden’s sensory character by releasing the most pleasant fragrance imaginable. In my garden, Rhododendron canescens
and R. austrinum
bloom in March and April. Interestingly, the Eastern United States boasts 15 species of native azaleas and offers beauty and diversity to natural areas and to gardens. Plant native azaleas in well-drained, acidic soil with plenty of organic matter in a place with at least a half day of sun.
Some people may never notice certain scents that are obvious to others. On a sunny day when I walk around the corner of the house, the fig tree (Ficus carica
) emits a subtle but distinctive aroma. The herb garden beyond has its own sensory qualities and contains plants that invite touching and sniffing. What could be more pleasurable than the scents of rosemary, scented geraniums, basil, lemon balm, lavender and other herb garden denizens?
Other plants offer unforgettable scents in Southern gardens. Many species of citrus are grown in the ground in areas where they are hardy or in containers in colder regions. Sweet shrub yields a whiff of its fruity scent, and magnolias throughout the neighborhood release their lemony fragrance. Old-fashioned roses are grown for their beauty and fragrance, and gardenias embellish gardens throughout the South and beyond. Summer brings the unforgettable fragrance of oriental lilies and the musky scent of moonflowers. Angel’s trumpets, four-o’clocks and various gingers add their perfume to the potpourri of olfactory delights.
With careful selection, almost everyone can have a garden filled with fragrance. Everyone likes to see a pretty garden, but a pretty garden that smells good is doubly delightful. Not only are the eyes and nose delighted by the fragrant plants and flowers; our memories of times past are triggered and brought to the fore when we stop to smell the flowers.
All photographs are by the author. Mouse over for identification.