Georgia Gardener Newsletter Design Tip: May 15, 2008

Fragrant Plants by Season

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Ginger Lily (Hedychium coronarium)

When planning a garden, one should take into consideration more than just visual appeal. Of course, showy flowers and foliage are a major factor and the first component usually observed but don't forget about the other senses, particularly your sense of smell. It's a known fact that memories, be they good or bad are more closely aligned with smell than any of the other senses. Every time I smell gardenias, I'm reminded of my grandmother's house in Savannah.

Since we have the ability to garden 12 months of the year, we also can have plants that generate aromas practically all the time. Just remember to try and plant fragrant plants in areas where they can be enjoyed. Below, I have divided the year into the seasons and show some plants in my own garden that have attractive aromas. There are many others and I encourage you to experiment with plants that have pleasing odors. Be aware that the peak bloom times listed below are from my garden in Gwinnett County and yours may be different.

Fall into Winter

The plants in this category generally bloom from September through December. Some of the early September plants may be found in the last group at the bottom. Of course, there will be overlapping time periods throughout the article.

Setsugekka Camellia sasanquaWitchhazel (Hamamelis spp.)

One doesn't usually think of Camellias as having fragrant flowers and neither would I if it weren't for the fact that I grow this particular variety and have found the flowers to have an aroma from several feet away. Setsugekka isn't the only Camellia I grow, but it is my only Sasanqua. I have not found any Japonicas with aroma. If there are other fragrant Camellias, please let me know. Witchhazels, particularly the American witchhazel (Hamamelis virginiana) is a reliable fall bloomer. In my garden, it reaches its peak bloom in early October. Other witchhazels bloom later in the winter or very early into spring.

Other fragrant fall bloomers: tea olive (Osmanthus spp.), loquat (Eriobotrya japonica)

Winter into Spring

Plants in this category bloom in my garden from January to mid March. During winter, I find that the high humidity and cool temperatures seem to help aromas travel through the garden. Fragrant flowers at this time of year when everything is so brown may also make them seem more prevalent as you're not expecting many plants to be blooming.

Winter Daphne (Daphne odora)Evergreen Clematis (Clematis armandii)

Winter daphne is by far the most aromatic of the winter-blooming shrubs. It's sweet lemon aroma can be detected as much as 50 feet away. Daphne can be tricky to grow as it requires sharp drainage in partial shade. In my garden peak bloom time is usually in mid February. I sometimes miss the blooming entirely as this coincides with the peak of the ski season. The evergreen clematis is a handsome vine with 2-2.5 inch white flowers that reach their peak in early March. On a warm day, I like to leave the windows open in order to capture the vanilla aroma.

Other fragrant winter to spring bloomers: tea olive (on a warm day), wintersweet (Chimonanthus praecox), loquat (on a warm day), witchhazel (Hamamelis vernalis and hybrids), Japanese apricot (Prunus mume), sweetbox (Sarcococca spp. ), paperwhites and some early daffodils (Narcissus spp.), winter hazel (Corylopsis glabrescens), white forsythia (Abeliophyllum distichum), star magnolia (Magnolia stellata)

Early to Mid Spring

Early to mid spring for me is anything from mid March to early May. This is when the number of blooming fragrant plants can really explode. I like to stagger my blooming plants so there isn't any competition. At the very least, you may want to plant fragrant bloomers that bloom simultaneously in different locations where they won't overwhelm your olfactory nerves.

Piedmont Azalea (Rhododendron canescens)Florida Azalea (R. austrinum)

These two species of native azaleas are the first to usually bloom and unlike most of the others are highly fragrant. Since their aromas are very similar (honeysuckle-like), I do like to plant them close together. The bloom times of these plants overlap pretty closely with both reaching their peak sometime in the first or second week of April.

Of course, this is also the beginning of the rose season although I've put them into the next category.

Other early/mid spring bloomers: pinxterbloom native azalea (Rhododendron periclymenoides), hyacinths, foam flower (Tiarella), fringe tree (Chionanthus virginicus), saucer magnolia (Magnolia soulangiana), annual sweet pea vine (Lathyrus odoratus), Carolina jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens), yellowwood tree (Cladrastis lutea), lilacs (Syringa vulgaris) - see the notes below.

Mid/Late Spring to Early Summer

I would classify this period in my garden as from mid May to early July. This is really a great time of year to have one fragrant blooming plant after another. Even if you are just a weekend gardener, there is no excuse for not having something beautifully aromatic at this time of year.

Confederate Jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides)Fragrant Roses (Rosa spp.)

Confederate jasmine with its white flowers should not to be confused with Carolina jessamine (aka jasmine) which has yellow flowers and blooms much earlier. Confederate jasmine is a strongly fragrant evergreen vine that begins blooming in mid May and continues well into June with sporadic flowers throughout the summer. The aroma of this plant can be detected more than 50 feet away. The star-shaped, 1-inch flowers practically cover this climbing vine making its fragrance almost intoxicating. Some people find its fragrance to be overpowering. Roses are probably the most well-known of all fragrant spring and summer blooming shrubs. However, not all roses have fragrance. Knockout roses and those of that breeding line seemed to have sacrificed aroma for long bloom seasons and disease resistance. Oh well, gardening is a give and take hobby.

Sweetshrub (Calycanthus floridus)Lilac (Syringa vulgaris)

Coming into bloom at this time is another of our native shrubs: sweetshrub. For me, sweetshrub reaches its peak in mid to late May. It's commonly known that the fragrance of this shrub varies greatly from plant to plant and it's best to select one while it's in bloom so that you don't end up with a dud, albeit a pretty dud. The cultivar 'Athens' with its creamy white flowers (versus purple-brown) was touted as being reliably fragrant, but I've been disappointed. Another source of disappointment for northern gardeners has been the beloved lilac. I've been in Idaho when the fragrance of lilacs could be detected nearly a quarter mile away. While I've seen a few lilacs that have bloomed successfully here in Georgia, I've yet to meet one that has the heady aroma of those up north. I say give it a try, though. You may be pleasantly surprised. Lilac bloom time seems to vary. I've seen many blooming in April, but the one pictured above was blooming in mid May.

Gardenia (Gardenia jasminoides)Lavender (Lavandula spp.)

Gardenias are probably the best known fragrant shrubs of the south. There are so many different varieties from big plants like 'August Beauty' (8x8) to the groundcover 'Radicans' (1.5x3) that there's no garden too small to not have at least one. Blooming usually begins in late May or early June and can continue through the summer. The large white blooms produce a very strong aroma. It's been my experience that as the flowers age, the fragrance gets stronger. Lavender is a late spring into summer blooming perennial with deep purple flowers. Although they seem to be short-lived here in Georgia, they are quite useful in the garden. Remember that the foliage and the flowers of lavender have aroma, so when the plant kicks the bucket, take the dried foliage for sachets and potpourri.

Other mid/late spring to summer bloomers: later native azaleas (Rhododendron arborescens, R. viscosum), pipestem (Agarista populifolia), Oriental lilies and hybrids (Lilium spp.), banana shrub (Michelia figo), mock orange (Philadelphus spp.), citrus trees, flowering tobacco (Nicotiana spp.), oleander (Nerium oleander) - poisonous,

Summer into Fall

Angel's Trumpet (Brugmansia spp.)Summersweet (Clethra alnifolia)

As we get into July and August, most of us retreat indoors away from the worst of the heat and humidity. However, there are still plenty of flowering plants that have wonderful fragrance. Angel's trumpet with its large hanging flowers can be very aromatic. These usually begin to bloom sometime in July and often keep blooming almost up to our first frost. I've found that the fragrance of these can vary, so try to get one in bloom or a cutting from one with reliable fragrance. Our native summersweet often has a very nice aroma associated with it, especially the cultivar 'Ruby Spice' with its pink flowers. These shrubs usually bloom in July and August and attract butterflies and hummingbirds. Pictured at the top of this article is the ginger lily. This tall (6-7 foot) plant with foliage that resembles canna lilies, is so aromatic that it can be detected up to 100 feet away. The fragrance reminds me of gardenias. This is one flower that I do cut and bring indoors. Flowering usually begins in September and continues until frost. Please note that this plant can be invasive and should not be planted in frost-free climates such as Florida and Hawaii.

Other mid summer to fall bloomers: passion vine (Passiflora incarnata), tea olives, tuberose (Polianthes tuberosa), oleander (continuing)

Fragrant Plants to Avoid

Alas, there are some highly aromatic plants that are on the invasive plant lists for the south. These include winter honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima), amur honeysuckle (Lonicera maackii), moonflower and morning glories (Ipomoea spp.), Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica), privet (Ligustrum spp.), all varieties of eleagnus (Elaeagnus spp.), Cherokee rose (Rosa laevigata), mimosa (Albizia julibrissin), Chinese and Japanese wisteria (W. sinensis, W. floribunda), sweet autumn clematis (Clematis terniflora or paniculata), mahonia (Mahonia bealei)

Plants that Stink!

There are plants that are at the other end of the smell spectrum in that they stink. These include kiwifruit (Actinidia arguta), tree of heaven (Ailanthus glandulosa) - also an invasive, boxwood foliage (Buxus spp), Chinese chestnut (Castanea mollissima), all ornamental pears, including bradford (Pyrus calleryana)

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