Scent of a late spring garden

AN important thing to know about scent in the open garden is that there are relatively few plants whose perfume will hang on the air in such a way as to make you sniff in inquiry as you walk past.

Many things smell good when you push your nose into them, or crush them, or bring them into a warm room, but what I am thinking about this morning is walking down along the garden path and the scents we may encounter there. Pulling off a few leaves of Choisya, (the so-called Mexican Orange) and rubbing them between your fingers is a wasted exercise for these will leave an acrid odour on your skin, pungent as cheap gin.

You might equally turn away in disgust from the Crown Imperial (Fritillaria imperialis) for as soon as you brush against this, it gives off an extremely strong scent of fox. And yet that is exactly what I like about this tall, impressive bulb which each April sends up four foot fleshy stems each studded with rather long, slightly twisted mid-green leaves beloved by slugs, snails, and nowadays lily beetles. At the top of each stem the leaves grow shorter and more thickly before gathering together in a top-knot style, reminiscent of a fresh pineapple. Later, a perfect circle of brick-red (or acid yellow) blooms appear beneath the crown of leaves and these hang down in a bright and spring-like way.

In the garden, they insist on a wet soil to give of their best. The large bulbs are sourced in early autumn and are best set (at a distinct, sloping angle) at least six inches deep in enriched soil. The off-set angle is recommended by the horny-handed for the centre of each bulb has a distinct tube-like channel and this could fill with water setting up fungal disorders or eventual rot.

A fine morning in spring reveals a miscellany of perfumes, a general air of freshness suggestive of burgeoning growth and early flowers, so as the Crown Imperials follow the snowdrops, I expect to experience the pronounced, all pervading perfume of choice scented azaleas and rhododendrons.. Some are obviously better than others, but there are a number of each worth sourcing and growing in any garden — large or small. Rhododendron ‘Fragrantissima’ and ‘Lady Alice’ are blessed with a truly captivating perfume.

If you have followed my suggestions down the years and invested in the perfumed, winter-flowering Dahpne ‘Jacqueline Postil’, then all the above rhododendrons and azaleas will please you.

Perfection in high rainfall areas can prove difficult for unless the drainage is made faultless they could develop leaf spot and never really flourish. The addition of grit, sharp sand, or even half-inch round gravel to the planting site and back-fill soil would be a huge advantage, thus ensuring spotless foliage and (during late summer) quality bud formation for the following spring.


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