No one has found a way to make the Internet scratch and sniff. This is a great pity, because if I could, I’d share the fragrance in my garden with everyone. Every morning I go out to walk about and breathe in the scents of the garden, and on calm evenings I do the same. You’d have to join me to appreciate the layers of fragrance, from the petite sprigs of lavender to the huge blooms of angels’ trumpet.
My garden is designed with three purposes in mind: to nourish pollinators, the saucy hummingbirds, the various butterflies, bees, moths and other creatures that do the work; to provide lots of colour all season long, from early bulbs, spring Pulmonaria and Primula, to late-season grasses, flamboyant annuals like zinnias and celosias, and reblooming coneflowers and daylilies; and to be as fragrant as possible.
Plants have scent for one purpose only — to attract pollinators, not to delight humans. Some pollinators are attracted to unpleasant scents, such as rotting meat or manure, which is why a few flowering plants have a less than delightful scent. Sea hollies smell unpleasant, even to me who loves them, and there are species of Symplocarpus (skunk cabbage), Stapelia, Amorphophallus, Arum and Dracunculus that smell of rotting flesh to attract their particular pollinators. Happily, many of these latter plants aren’t hardy for most of us, and are grown only as curiosities at botanical gardens or by collectors.
Favourite fragrances are as personal as colour and flower preferences are for most of us. You might like the fragrance of hyacinths, but not of witch-hazel. You might think heliotrope smells like baby powder, cherry pie (one of its common names), cream soda, vanilla or some other fragrance that I haven’t thought of. You might love the smell of astilbes, whereas I find them cloying except at a distance. You might resist the urge to smell every daylily you see, whereas I have pollen on my nose for days on end when daylilies are at their peak. My roses have to be tough to live in Nova Scotia with our freeze/thaw winters, but I also want fragrant varieties. Thus, I grow hardy rugosas like ‘Michel Trudeau’ and ‘Snow Pavement’, but also baby along a couple of fragrant Austin roses on their own roots (‘Golden Celebration’) or on a deeply planted graft (‘Fisherman’s Friend’ and ‘Crown Princess Margareta’).
Many plants have had their fragrances bred out of them in the quest to develop other desirable traits, such as long bloom, disease resistance or a particular colour. Many blue-flowered plants have no scent to speak of — think of delphiniums, hydrangeas and gentians — but because they’re blue, they’re forgiven in my books.
I plant as many fragrant specimens as possible, searching nurseries in spring to find fragrant Nicotiana, Dianthus and Verbena varieties, all of which are planted in containers on my deck or along the walkway so that I am always greeted by scent. I have half a dozen cultivars of Buddleja that survived winter. (They aren’t reliably hardy in Nova Scotia, but tall snowdrifts protected them from the worst of the cold.)
My garden also includes numerous fragrant tall phlox varieties, many echinaceas, chocolate cosmos (Cosmos atrosanguineus), assorted daylilies (Hemerocallis), sweet peas, and at least eight different species and cultivars of lavender, some hardy, some not. I keep some Oriental, species and Orienpet hybrid lilies here, picking off any scarlet lily beetles or their eggs and larvae, just so I can be washed in their scent when I go outside in August.
This year, for the first time, I have three ornamental angels’ trumpets (Datura varieties), including a white one with salad plate-sized flowers that open in early evening and last about 24 hours. Recently, it opened four flowers on the same night, and I sat beside it, savouring its heavenly scent until the mosquitos drove me indoors. If you’re in the neighbourhood, stop by and join me.