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Scent in the Garden Makes Lovely Sense

One morning this spring I walked out on our deck for coffee and quiet contemplation of my day´s activities.

Sitting and sipping, I became aware of a sweet scent that was gently grabbing my attention. A short walk to the edge of the deck and immediately the culprit was known….the lilacs were in bloom! One story below, the twenty-foot row of lilacs opened their petals to infuse the morning air with their delightful aroma. A few weeks later, as I began to hand water potted plants in the front yard, I was again assailed by a pungent, sweet fragrance. Lo and behold the hundreds of tiny pink buds of the ‘Cecil Brunner´ climbing rose had burst into bloom and were filling the whole area with their perfume.

With the blooming of ‘Cecil´ (his best year ever!), I decided to walk through the garden to see what other scents I would experience in the coming weeks. Near the house the native Bush Anemone (Carpenteria californica) bore white camellia-like flowers that shyly offered a light ‘gardeney´ fragrance. Gardenia buds were just waiting for a few more sunny mornings to pop open and infuse the lower patio with their heady scent recalling proms and first corsages of years gone by. The ‘Stargazer´ Oriental lilies are reaching for sunlight and by the end of June will explode into bloom, sending forth an almost overpowering aroma of sweetness. In the back garden, the native Western Spice Bush (Calycanthus occidentalis) was also getting ready to serve up its wine colored, spicy scented flowers. As I bruise the foliage of this bush the scent brings to mind the scent of my grandfather´s wine cellar! By the backdoor the large pot with the native Western Mock Orange (Philadelphus lewisii) will bring the pungency and freshness of citrus to this area when its multi-petaled flowers open in a few weeks. Lavenders (Lavendula spp.) and butterfly bushes (Buddleja davidii) carry scents along the driveway. And lastly, the rose and peony garden is an enjoyable space to sit and inhale the bouquet.

Both native and non-native plants provided fragrances I enjoyed and there were still some nooks and crannies where I could tuck in a few more plants that would enhance that enjoyment. I began looking to see what I could add. Natives would be preferable for their ability to take sun and require little to no water.

Several native sages have fragrant flowers that I will look for. White sage (Salvia apiana) has fragrant white flower stalks that can be 2-6 feet in height. I already have a Cleveland sage (Salvia clevelandii), and I think I will put in a few more, as this is a very sweet smelling sage. Hummingbird sage (Salvia spathacea) is an herbaceous groundcover that grows well in dry shade. The flowers have an intensely fruity fragrance and, as the name implies, the hummingbirds love it. The sages will grow in full sun and require little water.

The heavenly, fragrant native Western Azalea (Rhododendron occidentale) is a must-have even though it requires regular water. Unlike most rhododendron species that have no scent, this plant is deliciously scented. Placed in a large pot by the front door where it will receive some sun and partial shade it will make a bold statement when in bloom.

I will also look for one of the strong, sweet smelling native Ceanothus species. There are many to choose from, so flower color, growth habit and size will be determining factors.

Nicotiana alata and Nicotiana sylvestris will be one of my first non-native choices as they both have white flowers with intense fragrances, especially at night. They do need some water so I´ll have to find a place in the drip system where they will get some sun. The highly scented flowering jasmine vine (Jasminum polyanthum) is a must-have, whether I use it as a climbing vine or ground cover. This plant tolerates some shade and requires moderate water.

A non-native evergreen shrub liking partial to full shade is sweet box (Sarcoocca ruscifolia). Needing moderate water, this plant will do well under the deck where its fragrant white blooms in late winter and early spring will waft through a bedroom window. Clusters of pinks (Dianthus sp.) will spice up any of the garden beds not only with color, but with delightful fragrances as well.

This is just a hint of the remarkable number of plants that are waiting to bring luscious scents to your garden. Consider them along walkways where their fragrances will make you stop a moment to take pleasure in your space, on the deck or patio in pots bursting with blooms for sight and scent to enjoy, or tucked in the back of the garden where that hint of something sweet will draw you in! Garden scents really do make lovely sense!

Carolee James will be collecting fragrant blooming plants all summer long to plant in her garden this fall. Maybe another Cecil Brunner climber!