Old Fashioned Scents In A May Garden

This is the view as one steps from the inside to the outside at the Fairegarden. The sight never fails to bring a smile. But right now, there is something else that brings a wide, goofy grin as it envelops us like a shawl of sweetness.

Highly invasive, on the list of bad guys in nearly every state, growing on the neighbor’s fence behind the Arborvitae hedge along the veggie garden, trying to strangle the Arbs, growing by leaps and bounds no matter how many times it is cut back, the Japanese Honeysuckle, Lonicera japonica is in full bloom. There is no denying the scent, perfumers have been using it for centuries.

Fifty feet of fruity fragrance permeates the atmosphere here. But this patch is merely a small bit of a larger whole. Our entire neighborhood is covered with it. Most people find it reminds them of their childhood, as it was a plant viewed with less hostility back in those halcyon days. The scent clings to our clothing and can be detected even when we are inside the house.

Our block is very old fashioned in the plantings around the homes. Most of the houses were built mid-twentieth century, very modest in size with mature trees and shrubs allowed to grow freely with no pruning. The dominant garden, the very reason we bought this property for offspring to live in while attending college here was Mae and Mickey’s five city lots of lusciousness. These two people, Mae passed away a few years ago and Mickey is moving away soon, shared the bounty of their lifetime of plant collecting with anyone who admired any flower. Their generosity can be seen in each front yard on this street. Mae and Mickey loved the herbaceous peonies, a plant that lends itself to sharing. Names were not given with the grocery sack full to the brim of peony roots full of eyes, but this is believed to be Paeonia lactiflora ‘Festiva Maxima’. Fragrant and beautiful, few flowers are as photogenic as these.

Gardeners are the most wonderful friends and we miss the morning coffee on their back porch before the chores of the day in our respective yards were tackled. My garden is filled with the old fashioned flowers they so willingly gave, and they are treasured beyond measure. The peony plantings by the side of the main house remind me of times gone by, for their is no memory enhancement as strong as that of smell. The photo above might be of P. ‘Sarah Bernhardt’.

Of the gifted bag of peonies, most were the white, a few were the light pink and one plant was included of this darker pink. Does anyone know it? Added: Dear Annie at Transplantable Rose suggests this might be Monsieur Jules Elie. I agree. Thanks, Annie! Added later: Good buddy MMD at Mr. McGregor’s Daughter suggests Edulis superba. Could be!

The remake of the formerly known as the Flat Bed into the Gravel Garden, the story about it can be read by clicking here-Redefining A Bed From Flat To Gravel, has resulted in the germination of forgotten Dianthus barbatus, Sweet Williams. Each stem ends in a bouquet of various colors, quite sweet smelling. We are so glad to see the return of these precious plants and will spread the seed to ensure its longevity.

Bearded Iris germanica were also shared, my favorite being this brilliant orange beauty, believed to be I. ‘Tennessee Volunteer’.

Mae and Mickey loved the Vols of the University Of Tennessee and sported orange clothing on game days. They would jokingly poke fun at the Penn State Nittany Lion flag that adorns our front porch during football season. Personally, I root for them both. The color of this iris is like no other we have ever seen. This one is a keeper, even if it is only lightly scented. The maroon is I. germanica ‘Spartan’, one purchased in acquisitive activity a few years ago. The iris sometimes get mixed up here, that should read the iris always get mixed up here. When not in bloom the foliage has a way of moving about and tags get lost in the shuffle of mulching and weeding. Fearing to discard a one of a kind, the unknowns are planted in this spot by the raised box planter, their fate determined when and if blooming occurs. The orange wonder may have to be moved to a spot where no other iris reside, to be sure of its identity.

Old fashioned plants will never go out of style, no matter what the glossy magazines or plant breeders trying to sell us the newest, hottest trend in gardening would have us believe. Make friends with a neighbor who gardens, and your own space, even a brand new, cleared by a backhoe bare earth canvas will fill quickly with flowers that have withstood the test of time, lovingly shared. Some might even have a sweet fragrance that will fill you with nostalgia, and bring a bittersweet smile.


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19 Responses to Old Fashioned Scents In A May Garden

  1. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    I love all the old fashioned flowers Frances. I don’t think they will ever go out of style, for me anyway. That orange iris is a beauty as are the peonies. I don’t have any peonies. My garden is so shaded where I do gardening. Out front I could probably have some but geez I hate to be in the sun. I might have to start gardening out there though. The back garden is about full.

    Hi Lisa, thanks for stopping by. It sounds like your front yard would be the perfect spot to grow all the sun loving plants you admire. If you go out very early, it is not so hot out there. I know you are an early riser already. HA

  2. Gail says:

    Frances, The honeysuckle fragrance is fantastic now~It’s climbing on a neighbor’s fence. Enjoying the scent is my guilty pleasure! Old fashioned plants will never go out of style in my garden either. Peonies and iris will always have a place. Especially ones with fragrance. Love the UT orange iris! xxoogail PS Stepping out into that garden view would make me smile, too.

    Thanks Gail. The plants that grow so well here and are easily shared have a place in every garden is my thinking too. Guilty pleasure, an apt description!

  3. Carol says:

    What a sweet post and wonderful tribute to your friends, Mae and Mickey. It’s almost cruel to show us the pictures of those lovely scented flowers without us being able to smell them, too. But I have them in my garden, too, in lesser quantities, so I’ll smell them in a few days when they bloom “up north” here where I am.

    Thanks Carol. This post started out being about scents and became something of a tribute to the generosity of my dear neighbors. Mickey is cleaning up the property, getting ready to put it on the market. His garden is no longer what it once was, with no one tending it daily. Your own northern scents will be wonderful, I know!

  4. Valerie says:

    I enjoyed the view of your garden today. We are not that far along yet. Loved the orange iris. So unusual and the peonies are so gorgeous. V

    Thanks Valerie. Your spring is coming up fast. I always like how your gardens play catch up so quickly up north compared to our leisurely stroll. You are the hare to our tortoise!

  5. commonweeder says:

    How fortunate we are to have friends like Mae and Mickey who passalong inspiring reminders of how a single garden can enrich a whole neighborhood. I have to wait a little longer for my old fashioned and fragrant flowers to bloom.

    Thanks Pat, so true about the inspiration of neighbors. Your own spring will fill you will sweets scents, soon, I hope.

  6. Barbara H. says:

    Ah, yes, the torment of honeysuckle! The deformed trees where they have constricted the cambium into lovely, twisted forms and the heavenly perfume that brings momentary gratitude for its irritating persistence if you own woods that have been overtaken by it.

    A bittersweet time for Mr. Mickey, most likely. The loss of Mae, the loss of what his garden was and is now – I so hope he will be living where he can see beauty even if he is no longer able to maintain it.

    Hi Barbara, you have summed it up well. We hate the plant but love the smell. I have collected several stems that have been twisted by the vine for broom handles. I am sad for Mickey, even though he is moving to a farm and marrying the woman who owns it. He is starting over at 80 years old. The garden by me is a painful reminder, I believe.

  7. Yes, say what you will about the Lonicera japonica, the fragrance is intoxicating. Love your Peonies, beautiful!
    While orange is not the favorite color in my garden, that orange Iris is very apropos in a Tennessee garden!

    Thanks Janet. I love orange flowers and think this iris is the bee’s knees! It looks good with the maroon, a good mixer for the brilliance.

  8. Sweet post indeed, Frances! I miss peonies but would only want the scent of honeysuckle in someone else’s garden. Do you think the unnamed pink one could be ‘Monsieur Jules Elie’? At one time no garden was without it. Best of luck to Mickey and to you on getting new neighbors.

    That orange iris would probably be popular down here, too… but the fans would describe it as Burnt orange, HA.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

    Thanks Annie, I believe you are right about the Monsier and have added it to the post with a link to you, my dear! Orange is just a wonderful color all around, whatever the shade. HA

  9. Anna says:

    Yes the old fashioned plants will never go out of fashion Frances especially the scented ones. I can almost smell that honeysuckle from here

    Hi Anna, thanks for adding in here. Glad to hear you have the sweet if thuggish honeysuckle across the pond, too.

  10. I was just thinking yesterday that with all of the plant knowledge I have acquired in my adulthood, there are no really new scented plants… I already knew all of the best ones as a child. Interesting way these old fashioned plants have worked their way into our lives.

    What an interesting thought, thanks for sharing it. You are right, most sweetly scented plants are old timers, having been grown for a very long time all over the globe. Nothing compares to the perfume of lilacs, peonies, honeysuckle, roses, etc. for our temperate climate anyway.

  11. I believe my pink peony is ‘Mons. Jules Elie’. Does yours flop horribly and the stems get bent & broken on peony hoops? I really think you have ‘Edulis Superba’, which is darker pink than ‘Mons. Jules Elie’.

    All of these old fashioned peonies flop, but they are crammed into the bed to tightly that they sort of hold each other up. A heavy rain will take the open blooms to the ground. I don’t even try to stake them. As for the ID, I have added your Edulis Superba to the post with a link. Thanks for helping. It is too close to call!

  12. Nell Jean says:

    Fun post. Running after the latest cultivars is like chasing fame. It would be hard to improve the fragrance of a gardenia or a magnolia.

    Peonies were a staple in my Mama’s garden. Winters here are too warm for them.

    Hard to say no to honeysuckle where there isn’t a community effort to eradicate it.

    Thanks Nell Jean. I have been guilty of buying those hot new cultivars, especially of the Echinaceas, but most do not do as well as the species, and has been mentioned the sweetest smelling flowers are the old timers anyway. The honeysuckle is a thug, if a sweetly scented one. Our older neighborhood is not organized enough to ban anything, not even kudzu!

  13. Love all your old fashion plantings! I would love walking out to that every day too! What a wonderful, heart warming garden you have. A true happy place =)

    Thanks Julia for those kind words. The garden does make me happy.

  14. Lovely peonies and wonderful that they are reminders of your gardening neighbors.

    The wild honeysuckle has creeped in with my jasmine. I’m trying to separate the two vines, but their relationship seems to have developed quite rapidly into a solid romance.

    Thanks Cameron. What a steamy romance novel couple, the honeysuckle and the jasmine! I can just smell the fireworks! HA

  15. Your Tennessee Volunteer iris reminds me of a painting! 🙂
    Happy Spring, Frances.

    Happy Spring back to you, Shady. That orange iris is amazing and quite photogenic.

  16. Melissa says:

    Old fashioned flowers always take me back to the country home I was raised in. My siblings and I celebrated Spring by these blooms. Memories of eating the honeysuckle nectar and sniffing the beautiful irises as we skipped around their bed in our yard. We had peonies too. Thinking about their enormous flowers and a minty-floral fragrance is priceless. Thanks for the beautiful photographs!

    Thanks for visiting, Melissa. I am so glad you had the old fashioneds in your life growing up. I believe it instills a lifelong love of gardens and gardening.

  17. Oh! First time visiting your blog…Lovely! and I am so wanting your Iris Germanica Tennessee Volunteer.

    Hi Karen, thanks and welcome! I hope you found pleasure in the postings here, there are over 600 stories for public perusal in the archives. The orange iris is a miraculous color, I agree!

  18. Hi Frances, Thanks for the welcome!
    My blog is brand new and Im still getting the hang of it all. Taking photos, posting, looking at other blogs lol…
    wow, you have 600 stories ??
    Im in awe!
    I’ll be sure to stop by often!
    I love your blog!
    Thanks again


    My pleasure, Karen. Blogging is such a great way to reach out to other gardeners, the garden bloggers are a friendly and generous group. It has changed my life, and garden for the better. I hope you enjoy the same good results, and feel you will! 638 with the latest post today. There are others with way more than me, though.

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