By Anne Halpin
Colorful flowers in a summer garden are pure delight and for many of us, an essential part of the joy of the season. Consider the rich blue hydrangeas and the multitudes of roses in shades of red, pink, orange, yellow and white that are blooming across the East End now. Adding fragrance to the garden palette deepens and enriches our appreciation of flowers. Of our five senses, smell delivers the richest and most enduring experience. The memory of a scent associated with a certain event, place or person in our lives can remain with us always. Including some fragrant blossoms in your garden or landscape brings special pleasure to summer living. Luckily, many flowers that are deliciously scented as well as colorful thrive in East End gardens. Some grow on shrubs, some are perennials that die back in winter but return to the garden year after year, and others are annuals that are with us for a single growing season and are planted anew each spring.
There are many kinds of floral fragrance. Flowers can smell fruity and sweet, like orange blossoms or heliotrope (which was in times past compared to cherry pie), honey-scented, like sweet alyssum, or spicy and clove scented, like stocks or old-fashioned carnations and garden pinks. Some flowers have an aroma reminiscent of vanilla—sweet peas are a good example. Other flowers smell like violets – some tulips have this kind of scent. There is, of course, the incredible, unmistakable fragrance of damask roses. And still other flowers, many of them from tropical climates, possess a heady perfume that is strong, sweet and almost overpowering. Jasmine and gardenias fit into this category. Here on eastern Long Island these tropical beauties can’t survive the winter, but we can enjoy them for a summer season on a deck or patio.
If you are here year-round, your garden can begin wafting perfume your way in spring, from shrubs and trees such as lilacs, mock orange, magnolias, some viburnums, and in the dark, chilly days of February or March, witch hazel.
To perfume the air on your deck or patio to enjoy up close, some fragrant plants to grow in pots, window boxes or other containers include sweet alyssum, nicotiana, jasmine, petunias, sweet peas, heliotrope (especially antique varieties), stocks and verbena. To bring delightful scents to your summer garden, consider adding to a bed or border lavender, peonies, bearded irises, lilies, phlox, beebalm, scented geraniums, Peruvian daffodils (a tender bulb with wonderfully fragrant white trumpets) and, of course, roses, especially heritage, or old fashioned, varieties. The rugosa rose, native to Japan, is a fixture in many summer gardens here on the East End, where they also can be found growing in supermarket parking lots and along the street near the beach. Although native to Japan, rugosa roses are remarkably well suited to our coastal climate, and their intoxicating blossoms are pure delight. All of these flowers bloom in summer here, when the hot, heavy air intensifies their scents. And many of our local nurseries and garden centers carry them. Knowledgeable staff can advise you on the best flowers to grow for your particular location and situation.
And fragrance can be found in places other than the flower garden. Vines such as honeysuckle, wisteria and moonflower (a night-blooming morning glory relative) can perfume a trellised gazebo or arbor with their heavenly aromas. Wherever you grow them, these fragrant blossoms will add another dimension to your summertime surroundings, another reminder of the joys of summer on eastern Long Island.