Between the Rows: Fragrant flowers often low maintenance, bring back memories

  • Pat Leuchtman’s Greenfield home features a lilac tree with large lacy white flowers. The tree produces a fragrance that surprises the people who walk by in June. For the Recorder/Pat Leuchtman

  • Pat Leuchtman’s Greenfield home features a lilac tree with large lacy white flowers. The tree produces a fragrance that surprises the people who walk by in June. For the Recorder/Pat Leuchtman

  • Calycanthus, also called Carolina allspice, has very unusual deep wine-red or even brown blossoms that last from April to June. For the Recorder/Pat Leuchtman

  • Pieris japonica, shown here on the Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls, is sometimes called a Lily of the Valley shrub. It produces cascades of small white flowers in May and is not very fussy. For the Recorder/Pat Leuchtman

  • LEUCHTMAN

For the Recorder
Published: 2/22/2019 7:40:22 PM

My new low-maintenance pollinator garden is full of fragrant flowers that bloom over the course of the season. Though I didn’t choose these flowers on purpose, I was pleased to find that so many fragrant plants have additional benefits — especially when it comes to bringing back memories.

Some fragrances, like lilac, take me back to my early childhood on a Vermont farm. When we moved to Heath in 1979, there were already old lilacs in place, but I added the gorgeous Beauty of Moscow lilac with its double white flowers touched with pink. I also added the deep purple lilac, Yankee Doodle, so I could have some range of color.

Lilacs are not only beautiful and fragrant, but they are dependable. Think of all those lilacs still growing on abandoned farmsteads.

All my shrub lilacs are Syringa vulgaris. There are a number of other species including the small Miss Kim (S. pubescens subsp. patula), as well as the Chinese lilac (S. chinensis), with pinky-purple blossoms and the small Bloomerang lilac, which blooms twice a year.

When we bought our Greenfield house, we found a very different and unexpected lilac. We have a lilac tree. It is a syringa tree, not an overgrown lilac bush. The tree is covered with large lacy white flowers, and produces a fragrance that surprises the people who walk by in June.

Still, I have noticed there are other lilac trees in the area, and an apartment building near us has planted several lilac trees on the grounds. The fragrance is not exactly like the lilac bush, but it is wonderful.

In the shade of our lilac tree, we also got a Pieris japonica, sometimes called a Lily of the Valley shrub. It is evergreen and produces cascades of small white flowers in May. It is also not very fussy. I simply prune away the spent blossoms and any straggly branches in the late spring; that is the limit of my care. In our yard, I don’t need to worry about having sufficiently acidic soil.

In a slightly sunnier part of our front yard, I planted Deutzia, a small shrub that I’m hoping will not grow more than 2 feet tall, but will give me the promised 4-foot spread. In the spring, there are sprays of tiny white fragrant flowers that last two or three weeks.

Last fall, I planted a daffodil border in front of the low-growing evergreens. I was late in my planning, so I didn’t have many choices of daffodils. For those who think ahead, there are some especially fragrant varieties.

Narcissus “Actaea” is a white daffodil with a golden cup trimmed in red. This is a simple old variety that I love and always have in my garden. Narcissus “Carlton” is a big golden daffodil with a large fringed cup and great fragrance. It is also a good spreader, if you want to have more and more gold. And then, Narcissus “Replete” is a glamorous and fragrant double daffodil with pinky-coral ruffles in the center and double white petals.

In my sunny south border, I planted Korean spice viburnum. Anyone who has spent any time at Greenfield Community College in late spring will be familiar with the fragrance that perfumes the air at that season. The point is if you can plant several of a fragrant plant, you won’t have to stick your nose in the blossoms to revel in its perfume.

In our backyard garden, I planted Clethra, also known as summersweet, and Calycanthus, called Carolina allspice. Clethra is probably more familiar with its upright white or pink panicles of fragrant white flowers. In my garden, it is very happy to get some shade and moist, heavy soil. Calycanthus has very unusual deep wine-red or even brown blossoms that last from April to June. When the flowers finish, they are replaced with brownish seed capsules that will last all winter.

There are also fragrant annuals like heliotrope and flowering tobacco. I’m going to try planting stocks, Matthiola Incana, in my garden this summer. Stocks are about 2½ feet tall and bloom in a large range of color including white, yellow, pink and red. Their scented flowers bloom in the evening. They are very tender and sensitive to frost. They can be seeded when frost is no longer a danger, or started indoors to be transplanted when it is reliably warm.

I am not very good with houseplants, especially in the summer when I prefer my flowers outside. However, I’d love to have a blooming gardenia in the house, or in a carefully chosen spot outside. The scent of a gardenia is so evocative.

I remember the days when I was about 15 and could take the train into New York City by myself to see a Broadway show. Back then, you could buy a gardenia corsage on the street corner for 50 cents. Those fragrant gardenias on my shoulder were a great way to make me feel grown-up and sophisticated. Now, when I smell gardenias, I am carried back to my walk from Grand Central up to 42nd Street, finding my theater for “The Teahouse of the August Moon” or “Auntie Mame.”

Pat Leuchtman has been writing and gardening since 1980. Readers can leave comments at her website: commonweeder.com.




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