Gardening For The Senses-Scent

Most plant choices here in the Fairegarden are based on looks. Certain colors of flowers or foliage, berry production, drought and cold tolerance are all considerations when shopping or adding to the wish list. There are but a few that get to join the forces for garden good based on the way they smell. Hyacinths have great beauty and are faithful friends, returning each year with a head snapping fragrance that is nearly overwhelming. Hyacinthus orientalis ‘Purple Sensation’ and orange tulips from Walmart are slipped into a container until their bloom period is finished, then they are moved in ground. This type of purchase has been going on for several years since the fall planted bulbs seem to be a favorite of digging squirrels. The colors available are limited of the preplanteds barely peeking out of the potting mix that are set on the shelves in late winter, but the success rate has been good. They are planted outside in pots or straight into the garden at a time when the existing residents are visible, also just barely peeking at the cold light of day. Immediately after this image was captured, the square red pot was emptied, its inhabitants planted out and new spring purchases alleviated the emptiness.

Daffodils of certain types have been reported to have scent. Narcussus ‘Sinopel’ is one of those, a very late bloomer in the daffodil parade here.

The vision of the chartreuse Heuchera ‘Citronelle’ highlighted by the same color trumpet of N. ‘Sinopel’ has come to fruition, possibly for the first time ever. Sinopel is so late to open that often the temperatures in our region have reached summer like high eighty degrees, causing the petals to droop sadly before crisping and falling off. When this shot was taken, it was 88F, but the flowers remain intact.

The number one reason to plant lilacs, not counting the fact that it is a plant from my childhood home, full of wonderful memories, strongly scented ones, is for the perfume exuded by these light lavender flowers. In our zone 7 garden, we are at the southern end of the range for Syringa vulgaris. Lilacs need chill hours, like most hybrid tulips, to produce flowers. The harsh winter of 2010-2011 provided more than enough cold for good blooming.

In some years, early April can see temperatures too high for the flowers to last much more a day or two. 2011 has been to their liking and the flowers have entertained the nose for several weeks.

Beautiful, yes, but for the Erysimum family, wondrous wafting sweetness is a prime reason for its existence here. Click to read more about them in an older post here-Winter Plant Portrait-Wallflowers,Erysimum, if you are so inclined.

Placement is primary when dealing with heavenly scented flowers. The wallflowers have colonized the gravel paths and beds under the garage deck, filling the atmosphere with perfume as we putter with projects there. Hummingbirds have been seen recently partaking of the sweet nectar from this patch. Some have been moved to other locations, like the raised veggie box, with new colors added to enliven the gene pool.

Honey scented, also receiving treatment in a dedicated post that can be seen by clicking here-Fothergilla is the native Fothergilla gardenii.

A massed planting at the corner where the path pavement changes from gravel to concrete stepping stones, the former property line before the house next door was purchased, demolished and the garage built in its place offers a stopping point to smell the flowers while continuing up and down the hillside of daily endeavors. As with so many things, these have also been spread about from rooted suckers, but this is the best patch of them.

Cheer bringing visuals are brought about by the collection of deciduous azaleas. Some of these large shrubs also have various scents, the most highly perfumed is Rhododendron ‘Admiral Semmes’, which is also one of the first to bloom. A definitive listing can be seen on the Plants We Grow-Deciduous Azaleas page on the sidebar and more information gleaned here-Azaleas 2010-Deciduous, that is.

And so begins the most glorious time in the Fairegarden. I hope you’ll come and sit awhile. Be sure and bring all of your senses. Up next, roses!


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19 Responses to Gardening For The Senses-Scent

  1. Absolutely stunning! I can smell them all the way over here in Georgia. I am so envious you can grow lilac. I have only ever seen one in Georgia and that was in the far northern part of the state.

    Thanks Karin. We are fortunate with the lilacs, although it is only the species that grows here. There are a few around town, in older neighborhoods. Mine were brought from our northeast TN home where they were more common. I would love to have the white one. πŸ™‚

  2. Carol says:

    We are just now smelling the first of the highly scented blooms here in my zone 5 garden. First up V. carlesii!

    Hi Carol, thanks for visiting. I am glad to hear your perfume in the garden has begun. πŸ™‚

  3. Randy Emmitt says:


    Several of these I’ve never heard of or just found no interest in them in the past. We lost out clematis armandi this winter, its fragrance was heavenly and a very early season bloomer.

    Hi Randy, thanks for stopping by. I am so sorry about your clemmie loss, but as most gardeners agree, a death in the garden is an opportunity for a new planting. May it be a fragrant one. πŸ™‚

  4. sequoiagardens says:

    “I’d like to have the perfect twin:
    one who goes out as I come in” (Barbra Streissand ‘More’, about 1980) How lovely to see your spring as we go into autumn! Jack

    Thanks Jack. Love those Babs quotes! HA Spring is in full swing here on the upper side of the globe. Hope you are having a delightful fall. πŸ™‚

  5. I remember wallflowers from our grandmother’s garden in Wales. In Toronto, our winters are usually too harsh for this biennial to reach the flowering stage. I did have it happen once. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to encapsulate the true essence of these fragrances, and pop them open for a whiff whenever we wanted (perfume isn’t always true to its source)? But that might make their scents less precious in the garden. I envy you that glorious rhodo! Enjoy your lovely garden, Frances. You’ve earned it.

    Hi Helen, thanks for joining in here, and for those kind words. I agree, the perfume from these flowers is far superior to anything bottled and sold in stores. I never heard of wallflowers until moving here, always thought they were the girls at a dance sitting alone waiting for a partner. Why this fabulous flower is associated with that is a mystery. And I don’t think girls wait for the guys anymore to do some dancing, thank goodness! The decidous Azaleas are my very mostest favorite flowers. Their time has come, I wish you and everyone could experience it is person! πŸ™‚

  6. gail says:

    Frances, The hyacinths look spectacular planted in the red pot~Must remember that next Spring! The lilac looks scrumptious and I know it smells divine. There weren’t many blooming here this Spring~But, I have a good imagination and can smell the ones blooming on the monitor very well. Wall flowers~They make me think of the gardens we saw last May! Such sweet memories. xxoogail

    Thanks Gail. I wish you could smell the garden now, with your keen sense of smell, it might be too much for you! I do remember those English wallflowers. The ones here are a mere ghost compared to the ones there, especially at Sissinghurst. Sweet memories, indeed! πŸ™‚

  7. Sharon Parker says:

    So glad the memory of fragrances stays with us–I so love the hyacinths and lilacs! Peonies and lilacs used to bloom at the same time where I grew up in western New York and were used on “Decoration Day” (Memorial Day) to adorn the graves of loved ones. Have you ever considered compiling your fabulous photos into a coffee table garden book? I would buy it and give as gifts if you did! Thank you for brightening my day with the deciduous azalea that looks like sunshine!

    You are way too sweet, Sharon, thank you! I remember Decoration Day, it seems to have evolved. Admiral Semmes is amazing and so fragrant, the best of the ones we grow. I have considered making a book of the blog posts, but found it too expensive. Why not just send your friends an email subscription to the blog? It’s free! πŸ™‚

  8. Good morning Frances, I include fragrance as one of the desired features of a plant….hence the Edgeworthia, the desire for a Daphne, lots of Gardenias, etc. I have Fothergilla but don’t notice the fragrance– is there a better time of day that it releases its scent? Of course mine are three little stems right now….maybe we need a larger, more mature specimen. Yours is grand

    Thanks Janet, for adding in here. Your Fothergilla might need to reach nose height to be stronger for you to smell. It will grow quickly. I didn’t notice the scent when these were tiny, either. πŸ™‚

  9. Greggo says:

    Still trying to figure out what to do with these new heucheras. So many choices. Any particular growing conditions which have created success for you?

    Hi Greggo, hmmm. I am not sure the location where you are gardening, but here in southeast Tennessee zone 7, the heucheras with villosa in the genetic pool do best. In nature they grow on rocky cliffs in partial shade. We have the well drained, rocky slope that faces north, they seem to like it there. Water well in the beginning though, to get them acclimated. Hope this helps. πŸ™‚

  10. Nell Jean says:

    I love fragrant plants. Yours are beautiful.

    Lilacs were a fav in Daddy’s yard in North Georgia when I was a child. Ancient bushes, cut back so many times they were 4 feet across of multiple small trunks and taller than a man. I was curious when I read ‘Under the Lilacs’ as to how they got UNDER there. I tried to grow suckers from them in metro Atlanta and only once or twice was the winter cold enough to bring forth a puny bloom.

    Thanks Nell Jean. I love the sound of your Daddy’s yard! We had similar giant bushes that my dad would cut to the ground, literally, every few years. They always grew back with even more flowers than before. The ones here are not that large, but might be if I cut them down? Some years are better than others for number of flowers, this hard winter gave us the most ever.

  11. commonweeder says:

    Scent is precious in the garden. Your garden is an inspiration for those of us who are still reduced to smelling the snow melt. But the leaf buds of our lilacs are swelling with promise. We will have to wait another month

    Thanks Pat. The sound of your swelling lilac buds does hold great promise. I am sure yours are happier than mine in that cold climate, even if they are slower to bloom. πŸ™‚

  12. Marguerite says:

    Glad to see you got to enjoy the scent of lilacs this year. I had no idea they wouldn’t grow in too warm climates. Once again I’ve learned something new! I can’t imagine a garden without the scent of lilac. It too was one of my childhood memories. My very first purchase for my new garden last year was a common lilac.

    Thanks Marguerite. Folks up north take those common lilacs for granted, I believe. Treasure them, and good going on your new addition! πŸ™‚

  13. My Kids Mom says:

    As I puttered yesterday I realized something was leading me by scent. I followed my nose to a native azalea. mmm. Unfortunately two of the three never bloomed this spring.

    Hi Jill, thanks for visiting. Are your natives new plantings? Sometimes they take several years to get going, even though they may have been in bloom when purchased. If not, I would suggest mulch, no fertilizer, and extra water if we have another droughty summer.

  14. That Azalea is beautiful Frances. And I really must cure MIL of her hatred of wallflowers, the scent is so lovely, and it brings in the hoverflies like nothing else in my Spring garden.

    Thanks Janet. Hatred of wallflowers??? What a shame, and of course pollinators are wonderful. πŸ™‚

  15. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    Your garden is so far ahead of mine. It makes me so excited to think that my garden will be at this point sometime soon. All those scents are wonderful. I love the delicate scent of daffodils. Wall flowers have never taken here. Sigh~~ I can’t wait to see the hummers around here too. So much to look forward to.

    Thanks Lisa. I know you will be catching up to my garden soon!!! We are seeing the hummers here, but I can’t seem to have the camera at the ready. I need more patience, and the little birds would be kind to slow down, please. πŸ™‚

  16. Rose says:

    What a treat your garden is for all the senses, Frances! I think my sense of smell has diminished in recent years, because I sometimes don’t realize a plant has a fragrance until I get down close to it. Last fall as I was pulling out the dead lantana after a heavy frost, I discovered they smelled just like their name–‘Lucky Lemon Creme.’ My hands smelled like lemon for hours! I don’t have that problem with lilacs, though–your garden must smell heavenly right now with their sweet perfume.

    Thanks Rose. I think my smeller has dimished, too, until I walk by that azalea! I have to stick my nose in the roses, must watch out for bees! That lantana sounds wonderful, they usually have a very odd scent to them, not unpleasant but not lemon creme. I will look for it, thanks. πŸ™‚

  17. Nutty Gnome says:

    Oooh, you’ve given me some great ideas for scented plants Frances, but I’ve fallen so totally in love with that zingy Heuchera Citronelle that I’m going to have to go and fins me one …or two or three……! πŸ™‚

    Thanks Liz, I love that you found inspiration here. Citronelle is incredible, the color jumps into your awareness from the darkest spots in the garden. Get all you can find! πŸ™‚
    ps, of course, I need more!

  18. Donna says:

    After seeing your photos, I have high hopes for that scraggy little deciduous azalea I planted. I think it needs a magic wand. πŸ˜€

    Thanks for stopping by, Donna. Admiral Semmes was the largest, and most expensive azalea purchased for this garden. Worth every penny. The others, in smaller containers are getting there, but none match the Admiral in size and scent.

  19. ourfriendben says:

    Hooray for Admiral Semmes!!! How wonderful to see him again. He seems bigger and better than ever this year!

    Hiho, OFB! I know how you appreciate the Admiral, he is still the champion bloomer and gets bigger and better and can it be, more fragrant with each passing year. πŸ™‚

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