Tina Weikert: Selecting flowers for a garden of sweet perfume

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For a long time, there has been a bench swing in the periphery of my life. I'm cloudy on when it first appeared, but I associate it with many a visit to my parents' house. When my boys were babies, my Mom would swing with them on the bench, snuggling, or reading storybooks. They thoroughly enjoyed their hours spent on that swing, with its painstakingly measured and cut wooden slats stained a walnut sheen, and its merrily tinkling chains holding it to the tree bough above.

Today, its legacy continues. The swing bench presently resides in my Vermont yard. My boys, now readers in their own right, regularly climb onto its wooden lap to read a chapter from their latest library boosk. I show up often too, sliding into its seat in the early morning hours with an afghan for warmth and a pen and paper to write. Truth be told, I am in its embrace now, writing it this love note.

I love it to the point that since acquiring it over a year ago, I've desired to adorn it with flowers. To plant fragrantly scented beauties around it so that when pumping my legs to swing, the breeze created will be awash in perfume. A girl can dream! I've set about test planting some aromatic flowers in my yard so that by next summer I will be fully knowledgeable of how to landscape this area.

Flower scents were first categorized in 1893 by Count von Marilaun into six groups (later expanded into ten). I struggle with the Count's explanation but have found Dr. Leonard Perry, an extension professor of University of Vermont and contributor to "The Green Mountain Gardener" gives a brilliant outline, which is worth quoting in full:

The indole group has flowers smelling like and resembling decayed meat or carrion, such as the skunk cabbage (Lysichiton) and a wake-robin (Trillium erectum), and attracts dung flies for pollination.

The aminoid group also smells unpleasant to attract flies, smelling of decayed fish or ammonia, and includes many umbel flowers such as giant fennel.

The heavy group smells similar to the last, only sweeter, and includes some of the oldest known fragrant flowers such as some lilies and narcissus.

The aromatic group has some of the most pleasantly scented flowers with scents of vanilla, balsam, almond, and cloves such as in some primroses, peonies, stocks, and pinks.

The violet group and smell is, of course, present in violets. Smelling of damp woodland moss, it attracts no insects as the flowers are self-pollinating.

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The rose group is pleasant and found in roses in addition to some peonies and scented geraniums.

The lemon group is more often found in leaves but also in some water lilies and evening

primroses. The fruit-scented group includes many roses and some minor bulbs.

The animal-scented group usually is unpleasant and may smell of musk as in some roses, human perspiration as in valerian and ox-eye daisy, and animal fur as in crown imperial. The honey-scented group is similar to the last, only sweeter, and often more pleasant. Some examples are the butterfly-bush (Buddleia), showy stonecrop (Sedum spectabile), and meadowsweet (Filipendula).

Armed with that information, I was off. There was already a rose-scented geranium tucked into one of my flower beds, but I've since partnered it with both a ginger scented and a lime-scented variety. In the fall, I will need to dig them up and overwinter them indoors. My long-range plan is next spring, and each spring after that, I will plant them near the bench swing, where they'll be joined by other fragrant flowering plants.

I already had a swath of lily of the valley that needed thinning out. They bloom in early spring, with their bell-shaped white flowers extolling a sweet scent further across the yard than you would expect from their small blossoms. I transplanted the rhizomes over to where I want my bench swing garden to be. Granted, this isn't the ideal time of year to do that, but I have faith that the plants will use their invasive genetics to lay down roots.

I was delighted to discover a set of stock plants at my local nursery. Stock flowers have a memorable fragrance with hints of amber and spice. Stock varieties range from one to a few feet high, and their colors span purples, reds, and whites. I tucked them into a flowerpot on my deck where they've been as happy as can be. Now, at the height of summer heat and on their downswing, they are still blooming, sending their heady fragrance across my yard. I nominate stock as an addition to my swing bench garden next year.

A perfumed garden isn't complete without a rose bush, so this year I have added two to my yard. A "knock out" pink variety to add depth to my flower bed, and a "ramblin' red" that should easily grow to cover the trellis lining my front porch. Roses are new territory for me, but so far, we have made good progress in our relationship. If all goes well, I'll add a third member to our tribe. A deliciously fragrant variety to scent the breeze created by a well-loved bench swing.

Tina Weikert is a frequent contributor to Southern Vermont Landscapes.


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