It can feed the soul, stir fears, calm, soothe or invigorate us. But scent is a personal thing: one person's fragrance is another's stench. While I love privet, a perfume that instantly propels me back into blissful childhood, a friend says it's like ... well, never mind. Planting for fragrance takes a little time and thought, but rewards the gardener, (and everyone else in the vicinity) with a breath from the Garden of Eden.
The first rule of thumb is to plant the scents you love or that flood you with memories -- lilac for the day your grandmother gave you her favorite brooch, the damask rose that was blooming when you graduated. A fragrance garden can keep the happiest times of your life swirling around you for weeks. Second, just as for color and bloom, plan for successive scents, from the first hyacinth in early spring to the last tiny white clematis in fall. Be careful not to plant too many different strongly scented flowers for a single blooming period in a small space.
"Choose one or two strongly scented blooms for each blooming period," advises perennial garden designer Marcy Brown of Outside Insights. "Then, if you wish later, add others." Like life, a garden is a work in progress. Also, unless it's specifically a potpourri garden, don't clump all the scented plants in one place.
"It's better to spread strongly scented plants around the yard a little," says Brown. "For example, position the lilac so it wafts into the windows on one side while the Gardenia daffodils sit by the door on the other."
In choosing plant varieties for fragrance, remember that a rose is not necessarily a rose anymore. Many hybrids of old favorites have sacrificed perfume for other traits, like size, color, disease resistance and longevity of bloom. Be sure to ask if a particular plant variety is fragrant.
Spring hyacinth and narcissus are wonderful old stand-bys for spring fragrance, but there are increasingly more daffodils that are scented, too; two sold by the Van Bourgondien catalog are jonquil 'Quai,' a traditional yellow trumpet, and gardenia daffodil 'Cheerfulness,' a creamy, ruffled bloom that exudes a heady perfume. Another spring delight is Muscari Neglectum, a carefree grape hyacinth whose blue blossoms look like white-edged pantalets.
Roses are a natural addition to a fragrance garden. Darlow's Enigma, a pungent, hardy white shrub rose, and Scentimental, scented, striped floribunda rose, are both available by catalog from the Antique Rose Emporium. J.W. Jung Seed Co., which also carries Scentimental, offers a line of fragrant roses including Fragrant Plum (mauve), Perfume Delight (rich, pinky-red) and Blue Nile (pale lavender). Late spring brings the irises, which smell like concord grapes, especially after a warm rain, and peonies, whose cut blooms can fill a room with sweetness.
In summertime, there is honeysuckle, which also attracts bees to pollinate your fruit and vegetable plants. Additionally, the honeysuckle pistol is a tiny wand that children can extract from the base to sip the single sweet drop of nectar.
Some of Marcy Brown's summer fragrance favorites include Asian and Oriental lilies, which also make a dramatic visual statement; phlox, which blooms from June to October; lavender, a superb dried addition to linen drawers and closets; sweet pea, (especially Old Spice, an heirloom); scented geraniums; stock; and Nicotiana, one of the stars of the evening garden when its fragrance fills the air to attract beautiful evening moths.
One of the more impressive-looking scent blooms for fall is Lycoris (Magic lilies), especially L. Squamigera (a k a hardy Amaryllis Halli). The foliage disappears in July and then in August, huge, pink trumpets rise on long, dark stalks. Another fragrant fall bloomer is the tiny-flowered Sweet Autumn clematis (paniculata) that can often be seen growing up telephone poles on the highway; it has a lovely, delicate perfume.
Fragrance gardens can also supply materials for potpourri. Crabtree and Evelyn's "Fragrant Herbal" by Lesley Bremness (Little, Brown, 1998) offers a smorgasbord of recipes.
* Antique Rose Emporium, 9300 Luekemeyer Road, Brenham, Texas 77833; 409-836-9051
* J.W. Jung Seed Co., 335 S. High St., Randolph, Wisc. 53957-0001; 800-297-3123; fax, 800-692-5864
* Van Bourgondien, 245 Route 109, P.O. Box 1000 Babylon, N.Y. 11702-9004; 800-622-9959; fax, 516-669-1228
Pub Date: 5/31/98