Monday, February 27, 2006

Scent in the landscape

Like me, you have probably realized that many herbaceous plants and shrubs for sale today in our nurseries and garden centers have had their fragrance bred out of them in exchange for increased hardiness or resistance to a certain disease. It seems a sad trade-off. There are some plants that I know have lost their fragrance since I've been alive and then there are other plants that I didn't know ever had a smell. Pansies and violets? Who knew? But as gardners are demanding more and more fragrant varieties, smells are starting to reappear. And may I say, pansies smell lovely. So this year, I'm drawn to plants that are not only lovely and easy to grow, but offer a lovely fragrance as well. I'm inspired by an episode from last year, where I bought some stock and planted it in pots that line the brick walk near the rear corner of the house, beneath our second story bedroom windows. I recognized that stock smelled nice, but I did not know how nice until I lay in bed on those first balmy nights of spring when it is warm enough to sleep with the windows open and enjoyed wave after wave of heady stock scent. I swear you could smell it for a few hundred yards.

Heliotrope is another perfumey plant that I've been using for years. It's scent is a vanilla/honey smell and is usually only fragrant right in the area where it is planted. Still, on certain impossibly humid, hot nights, I can take the dogs out before bed and the front porch is positively thick with heliotrope scent.

I've ordered seeds for Mignonette, which reportedly was a favorite of Napoleon's Josephine, and is considered the most fragrant flower you can have in your garden, so I will let you know how that works out. Picture me in bed in early May, repeatedly sniffing to discern between Stock and Mignonette and driving my husband insane.

One flower that I know has lost it's scent since I was young is Nicotiana. My grandparents used to grow this in a narrow bed along a walkway at their house. There was wall at the rear of the bed along which an enormous Pyracantha espalier grew. It was always full of bees and usually a bird's nest or two, so I would sit on the walkway and watch all the activity and inhale the spicy scent of all those Nicotianas. When I was in college, I bought a few at a local garden center and put them in pots on my balcony, and was disappointed that there was positively no smell. But this year, I have purchased seeds from Seed Savers Exchange for an heirloom variety of Nicotiana that has maintained the glorious scent. I cannot wait, as I have not smelled that particular fragrance since I was about 7. It should take me right back to sitting Indian style on a warm sidewalk and listening to the hum of bees.

I'm planning to puchase two fragrant shrubs as well. Carolina Allspice, also know as Sweet Shrub, used to grace dooryards in Colonial times with it's fragrance described as a combination of pineapple and strawberry. I'm excited to try this plant and hope that it lives up to it's reputation.

And mockorange is another shrub that I'm hopefully going to work into the landscape this year. I've never smelled one myself, but have heard good things and many references in books that I've read to the perfumey fragrance of mockorange.


Anonymous Liz said...

Mockorange is going to knock your socks off. It's delightful.

I, too, have noticed that most nursery plants don't smell good anymore. It seems all they care about is breeding for big, nasty double flowers (I'm a single flower purist).

10:31 AM  
Anonymous Judith said...

You are driving me pleasantly crazy w/scent! Ah! It is wonderful, I can't wait for heliotrope, for one. You have given us a fragrant list to ponder. Lovely. PS must find the Mignonette you mention.

3:38 PM  
Blogger meresy_g said...

I bought the Mignonette from Johnny's seeds. They came in the mail yesterday. it is not a very pretty mignonette, for there is a more attractive one, but supposedly the plainer one is the more fragrant of the two.

4:55 PM  

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