Never underestimate the power of fragrance

Published 12:13 am Saturday, June 26, 2010

Fragrance adds a unique dimension to any garden, and its significance is often overlooked.

While visiting The Butchart Gardens in Victoria, British Columbia, I was astounded by how fragrance added to my garden tour experience.

The Butchart is a National Historic Site and one of the most beautiful gardens in Canada. It was originally a limestone quarry 18 miles outside of Vancouver. It was purchased by R.P. Butchart to support a Portland cement factory he was building there. His wife, Jennie, a self-taught gardener and chemist, began planting the original Japanese-style garden in 1906 at the far end of their property, away from the noise and dust of the factory.

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After five years, the quarry was abandoned as a source of limestone for the factory. Jennie had received acclaim from everyone who visited her garden, so she decided to turn the abandoned quarry into a sunken garden. Chinese laborers hauled in tons of topsoil by horse and cart to construct the flower beds over the bare rock floor. She had one Scottish gardener who assisted her with most of the initial planning, and to cover up the walls she personally took on the task of planting ivy in the cracks and crevices along the sides of the quarry. This was accomplished using a bosum’s chair suspended from the edge of the quarry.

Today, 100 years later, there are four gardens and 30 year-round gardeners, expanding to 65 in the summer months, who tend the site, which is open year-round. Over 1 million visitors annually walk through the sunken garden, then into a delightful rose garden. The walkway continues into the Japanese garden and ends up in a formal Italian garden.

The landscaping is breathtaking — huge trees, hundreds of mature shrubs, ponds, fountains, massive beds of annuals and perennials and stone walkways that lead from one exquisite view to the next. I was delighted to see so many different plants, but what I did not expect was the fragrance that weaved through the garden.

The scents came from a variety of plants. Sweet alyssum, a low-growing groundcover with tiny honey-scented white flowers, was used along the borders in many areas. Large plantings of stock, the fragrant white and pastel spears that are sometimes used in funeral sprays, plus wallflowers, dianthus and sweet William added color and perfumed the air.

Daphne, the legendary fragrant shrub with small waxy white blooms, Mock Orange and several different viburnums provided color, texture and delightful scent.

The rose garden contained hundreds of cultivars loaded with buds. Plenty of fragrance came from under-plantings of delicately scented pansies; peonies the size of salad plates in shades from white to deep wine; primroses; nicotianas; Oriental lilies; hostas; lavender; bearded iris; heliotrope; and sweet peas.

Mississippi gardeners might not be able to grow every fragrant plant I have mentioned, but there are quite a few choices that perform well in our area. If you have created an outdoor room, a few fragrant plants can add so much.

Cool-weather choices include pansies, stock, dianthus, sweet William, Carolina jasmine, clematis, winter honeysuckle, daphne, paperwhite narcissus, lilies-of-the-valley, sweet peas and bearded iris. Summer and fall favorites include petunias, Oriental Lilies, roses (particularly some of the antique rose cultivars), nicotiana or flowering tobacco, four o’clock, moonflower, gardenia, Confederate jasmine, Southern magnolia, Angel’s trumpet, butterfly bush, summer phlox, hosta, vitex, ginger lilies, sweet autumn clematis, sweet olive and common witch hazel.