With all the chemical scents, sprays and air fresheners on the market, one begins to wonder what a real natural fragrance might be. Most favorable scents in nature are subtle like the fresh smell after spring rain, the earthy smell of freshly tilled soil, the smell of fall leaves and the fresh cut Christmas trees. Most of these natural scents are soft hints of the real thing.
I have to chuckle when I see perfumes that list fragrance of hibiscus, amaryllis, hydrangea and poinsettia. If you are familiar with any of these flowers, they are truly beautiful but have no fragrance. Sniff all you want, there is nothing there.
When purchasing a tree, bush or perennial, consider the size, shape, blooms, hardiness and fall color. What about the fragrance? Years ago “fragrance” was not listed on the plant label, but now it is.
Lily of the Valley is a super hardy, shade tolerant, fragrant perennial. In the spring, small white bells hang daintily from three to four inch stems. In the evening, the lovely scent helps usher in the new growing season with promise of other beautiful flowers and scents to come.
Old fashioned lilacs go way, way back. They were tough enough to survive the trip on wagon trains as pioneers moved west. They are winter hardy and don’t have many insect or disease problems. The spring fragrance is divine and has been used in perfumes for centuries.
Korean spice viburnum blooms right after lilacs. Once you smell this spicy sweet bush you will be hooked. Cut a bouquet (which helps keep the bush pruned) and bring it indoors, you won’t need the Febreze that week.
Catalpa trees in bloom are a lovely sight with fragrance to match. The white orchid-like flowers look like puffs of smoke against the large distinctive leaves. With large leaves, white flowers and long bean-like seed pods it might not be a good choice for the front yard. It is a tree that needs to be tucked in the back, out of the way to be enjoyed from a distance.
Rose fragrance is probably the most familiar scent around the world. Bulgarian-grown roses produce the best quality rose oil in the world, while Turkey has the highest rose petal production in the world. Old fashioned varieties were winter tough and thorny but had a distinct scent. As plant breeders developed hybrid teas, grandiflora and floribunda roses, the fragrance was lost, replaced by plants with larger flowers and more vivid colors. When purchasing rose bushes, look for the notation of fragrance on the label. You won’t be disappointed.
Butterfly bush or Buddleia includes over 100 species. The late summer blooms attract both butterflies and hummingbirds. Allow plenty of space for this sprawling bush which can grow 5 to 6 feet high and just as wide. Expect some die back after a hard winter. These bushes can be seen at the Bickelhaupt Arboretum in our perennial butterfly garden straight west of the lower parking lot.
If it is a fragrant vine you are looking for, consider Autumn Clematis. This clematis is often overlooked since it is different from the large, brightly colored clematis often featured in garden catalogs. Autumn Clematis is one of my personal favorites because it covers itself with thousands of small cream colored blooms in late summer, is very fragrant, winter hardy and just a tough plant all around. This vine would provide shade or a living fence in your yard.
So as you add plants to your landscape don’t forget the great smelling “natural scents” listed as fragrant on the label. The annual and perennial butterfly gardens are in full bloom at the arboretum. The garden is abuzz with pollinators of all kinds.
Arts at the Arb for the month of August, features sculptures of local artist Kristin Garnant. So wander our beautiful grounds and enjoy art among nature.
Margo Hansen Director of Programs Bickelhaupt Arboretum.