In this frantic moment of planting and preparation, think of the dimension of scent in selecting new and replacement plants this spring. With a little planning, you can add a range of fragrant plants, hardy and tender, which will elevate your garden into a perfumed paradise across the months and growing seasons.
Chat Thursday at noon: Gardening advice from Adrian Higgins
Spring is the time plants are feverishly blooming and competing for the attention of pollinators, and fragrance is a way to turn a bee’s head. Many bulbs are scented, most obviously the hyacinth, but others are agreeably aromatic, especially daffodils. Among these, the type known as tazettas imbue their spicy scent. (The most famous of these are the indoor paperwhites.) Avalanche is a lovely old variety, with white petals and creamy yellow cups. A similar variety named Geranium has an apricot-orange cup, and is another of my favorites. Jonquils, another kind of daffodil, are also perfectly perfumed. I grow Sailboat and Fruit Cup.
Several fragrant spring shrubs are now doing their thing. For sweet and pungent scent, the daphne cannot be beaten. Daphnes can be short-lived, but the burkwood daphne is reliable and tough, especially when planted in partial shade and in soil that is enriched but free-draining. The classic variety is Carol Mackie, valued not just for its blossom clusters, but also handsome leaf variegation. It stays in bounds, unlike some of the large viburnums, and makes for a great plant by a shaded front entrance. I would also consider the fothergillas for that role. They are not a bluegrass band, but two species of delightful deciduous native shrub: the three-foot dwarf fothergilla and the large fothergilla, which grows to about eight feet after 10 years or so.
Large viburnums have their place, perhaps as a screen for a patio, and while there is nothing subtle about the blooming or fragrance of the koreanspice viburnum, it does the job. Hybrids have been developed and are worth growing as well, namely the Judd and Burkwood viburnums, and the fragrant snowball, whose botanic name is Viburnum x carlcephalum.
The quintessential fragrant shrub of April is the lilac, lovely in flower, but too often rushed by the early heat. Most gardens are too small to warrant a hedge of them, but some of the smaller varieties work well in a shrub border. I have long favored the Meyer lilac variety Palibin as well as a Manchurian lilac variety named Miss Kim.
Roses can be a flower of spring, summer and fall, but in the Washington area the first major flush of reblooming roses occurs from mid-May through June. This is also the long but glorious season of the old-fashioned climbers, ramblers and bushes that bloom just once a year. These include the rugosa rose, the salt-tolerant seaside shrub whose limp petaled flowers have transcendent powers of fragrance. Both Hansa and Roseraie de l’Hay have grown well for me, and bloom early. Among heirloom varieties that I have grown for their fragrance are Charles de Mills, Fantin-Latour, Mme Isaac Pereire, Souvenir de la Malmaison and Maiden’s Blush.