Late September through October is the ideal
time to plant seeds of some old garden favorites grown especially for
fragrance: Sweet peas (Lathyrus odorata)The warm
days favor quick germination and get the seedlings off to a good start. Then
these plants grow in cool weather, developing into vines (sweet peas) or
branched annuals (stock) to flower in late winter and spring.
Both may be available as seedlings at your
local garden shop. But Sweet pea are fragile to transplant. And while the
bedding plant growers have some lovely, abundant-blooming varieties of dwarf
Stock available, they simply don't grow the old-fashioned super-fragrant types
of yore. So fragrance-seeking gardeners begin with seeds. Seed vendors have
also been re-introducing heirloom varieties of Sweet peas, types that had been
cherished for their fragrance but superceded by more colorful modern varieties.
So now we can have the best of old and new.
Soak Sweet pea seeds overnight to hasten
germination. Then plant them in a bed where you have dug in lots of organic
compost and a little starter fertilizer. If night temperatures are below 45F,
you may wish to pre-germinate them indoors by spreading the seeds on a couple
of layers of damp paper towels on a plate or jellyroll pan, covering with a
couple more layers, and placing the pan in a warm spot. The top of your
refrigerator works well. As soon as you see the radicle (root) emerging,
carefully plant the seed in loose soil—either in the ground or in pots.
Sweet peas and stock are winter annuals;
that is, they grow and bloom in the winter, and then die when hot weather comes
along. There are many perennials with fragrant blossoms. Some we plant as
bulbs, others from nursery starts.
Bulbs with exceptional scent include:
narcissus, which bloom here anytime from November through February
especially the old-fashioned white and yellow types, which bloom in March – April
- Oriental lilies, with spectacular, intoxicating blooms in summer.
Among the many perennials, especially fragrant ones include:
- Pinks, especially Cottage and Clove pinks ( Dianthus plumariusand D. caryophyllus ) These carnation
relatives have similar, spicy clove-like scent, and are very easy to grow in
full sun. Long-lived, they bloom in late spring.
including the familiar English varieties (Lavandula officinalis)and Lavandins, which are hybrids between different species of Lavandula.
Actually low shrubs, these are usually grown with perennials. They prefer full
sun and dry soil.
with fragrant foliage are useful along paths where the leaves can be brushed to
release scent. Especially useful are Lemon verbena (Aloysia triphylla),mints (Mentha species—watch out! Spread freely!), scented geraniums (various Pelargoniumspecies, and Lemon thyme (Thymus x citriodora).
Perhaps the simplest way to add garden fragrance is to select easy-to-grow shrubs and vines for your landscape which happen to have scented flowers.
- Citrus (Citrusand Fortunella varieties).The fruiting Citrus make excellent landscape shrubs or small trees, with colorful fruit in winter and blossoms in spring. But two types stand out for fragrance. Kumquats blossom heavily in spring, but often bloom again in summer. With attractive narrow, shiny, dark green leaves, the blooming sprigs are great
in flower arrangements. Meyer lemon (actually a type of sour orange) also can
bloom off and on at almost any time of year.
- Lilacs (Syringa varieties). Lilacs need a
cold winter to develop flower buds, and the familiar French hybrid lilac bushes
from colder climates just barely get what they need to grow and bloom here.
Every so often we have a warm winter, and the blooms donÔø‡t open properly. But
that's rare. Plant lilacs out in the open in full sun. They can tolerate garden
watering or drought, and are unfussy, blooming here in April – May.
orange. The common name applies to two plants. Pittosporum tobira is widely planted in California, one of our best evergreen landscape shrubs.
Green and variegated forms are available, and it will grow in full sun or
considerable shade. Flowers in May smell just like orange blossoms. Folks from
'back east' grow Philadelphus,
deciduous shrubs that are somewhat rangier, which also have citrus-scented blooms
Many roses, of course, smell great if you walk right up and sniff the flowers.
Fragrant Cloud, Chrysler Imperial, and most of the David Austin English roses
are among my favorites for that. But some old-fashioned and species roses will
scent the whole garden. A sentimental favorite of mine is Rosa moschata Nastarana, the Persian Musk rose introduced in the late 1800 and one of the
top-rated old garden roses. It releases a fragrance in the early morning and
evening hours that is somewhere between musk and honeysuckle. It blooms off and
on from spring through fall. Easy to grow but hard to find in the trade.
Box (Sarcococca ruscifolia). One of
the few shrubs that will grow in full shade. Ve-e-ry slow growing to 3 –
4 over many years. Can be pruned as a hedge, but looks especially nice when it
is just lightly trimmed for shape. Shiny dark green leaves. The little tiny
white flowers surprise you in January – February, and the aroma drifts
far and wide; followed by red berries. Plant it under a bedroom window in a
olive (Osmanthus fragrans). This non-descript,
olive-green shrub plods along at about 2 – 3 a year, growing upright
into an oval shaped background plant. Then you're walking around the garden in
late spring, and suddenly you smell a powerful fragrance reminiscent of oranges
and gardenias. Following your nose, you finally see the tiny white blossoms of
your Osmanthus. The volatile oils of these flowers drift freely through the
garden. Pretty tough, but if it' in full western sun the foliage may burn so a
little afternoon shade keeps the plant looking better.
lilac (Ceanothus species and varieties). A
diverse genus of shrubs (some trees or ground covers), most with honey-scented
blooms in mid-spring. For the dry landscape: easy to kill with too much water.
Daphne (Daphne odoraMarginata). How many of
these have I killed?! With loss rates approaching 50% in wholesale production,
and their requirement for perfect drainage in the garden, there must be some
reason we keep planting Daphne. Once you've smelled the rich lemony, spicy
flowers in mid-winter, you'll try, and try again. Daphne is very susceptible to
crown and root-attacking fungus. Plant them high, keep them as dry as you can
without stressing them, and hope for the best.
Three vines merit special mention for outstanding fragrance.
of course, have historical and nostalgic appeal. The Arabian jasmine, also
known as Pikake (Jasminum sambac) is too
tender to grow outside here in Sunset Zone 12. But Jasminum polyanthum is a vigorous vine with pink buds and pungent white flowers, blooming in late
winter and early spring. It is vigorous, bordering on rampant.
jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides) gives the fragrance (and then some) on a tough landscape plant which can be
grown on a fence or arbor, or allowed to trail as a ground cover. Plant in sun
for best bloom, but the plant will grow in considerable shade as well.
(Wisteria varieties) is a tough,
drought-tolerant deciduous vine which produces a burst of sweet blossoms in
trailing clusters in late winter. The most fragrant type is the Silky wisteria (Wisteria
venusta). I consider the white form
Alba to be the most elegant of all.
[Note: The most common question
we get about Wisteria is 'why isn't my plant blooming?'
The most common reasons:
Too much water or fertilizer—they bloom best when they're stressed.
Too much shade—Japanese and silky wisterias need full sun; Chinese wisteria
will bloom in some shade.
Too young—reputable growers only sell grafted Wisteria which are mature.
Wisteria grown from seed can take 7 – 10 years to begin flowering!]
With some planning you can have
sweet-scented blossoms in your garden year around. Autumn is planting time in
California! Warm soil, sunny days and cool nights get young plants off to a
© 2008 Don Shor, Redwood Barn Nursery, Inc., 1607 Fifth Street, Davis, Ca 95616
Feel free to copy and distribute this article with attribution to this author.
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