Migrant Fragrances

Can you imagine a garden with nothing but fragrant plants?  It’s a most reasonable proposition, really.  You can easily fill a garden with upright and prostrate rosemary and a dozen types of lavender and have bundles of fragrance, in the form of clippings, throughout the year.  Even better, these plants are extremely parsimonious when it comes to water use.  Once they are established, you will not need to water them more than once or twice a month, even in hot weather.  When you do water, just make sure to give them a good, long soak.
You can include bay laurel (Laurus nobilis), the evergreen purveyor of bay leaves, for a fragrance trifecta.  I have seen this versatile plant utilized as a low hedge, a tall hedge, a medium to large sized shrub, and as a tree, in which form it may eventually reach a height of 50 feet.  That’s a lifetime supply of bay leaves for you, your extended family, and the extended families of your neighbors’ too.  However, unlike the full sun preferred by lavender and the full to half day sun appropriate for rosemary, bay laurel is strictly meant for half day sun in our hot valleys, gradually accepting more of the day’s sun as you approach the coast.
While the leaves of the above are fragrant, they need to be crushed to emit their scent.  And most perfumed flowers, for that matter, may be olfactorily enjoyed only when you stick your nose in them.  With these limitations of most aromatic plants in mind, I asked readers to recommend plants with migrant fragrances, those special species whose sweet scents can be sniffed from afar.  For two readers, this request brought back memories from sixty years ago.
“As a student at UCLA  in the late 50’s,” Carolyn Rothberg wrote,  “I can still recall the migrant fragrance of orange trees on Westwood Boulevard and Veteran Avenue.  For four years that scent was heavenly every spring.”

mock orange (Philadelphus coronarius)

Martha Stephenson, who gardens in Glendale, shared this phenomenal horticultural tale: “My 1st grade teacher gave me a mock orange (Philadelphus coronarius) cutting in 1956 which has grown into a plant that now gets pruned back yearly to about 8’ wide, 10’ tall.  The bush gets morning sun, is very drought tolerant, and requires minimal care.  Every year near the first of April, thousands of blossoms open, each lasting for a few days; the total bloom cycle is a couple of weeks, maybe a month.  The flowers are beautiful and the fragrance is heavenly!”

You seldom see mock orange in nurseries or garden centers.  Perhaps its deciduous nature, its relatively brief bloom period, or the fact that, in our climate, it is more sun sensitive than most plants, accounts for its marginal status. Meanwhile, you can order it via Monrovia nursery (monrovia.com).  San Marcos Growers (smgrowers.com) raises Philadelphus mexicanus, a double-flowered and vining mock orange species.
Three readers extolled angel’s trumpet (Brugmansia species) for its powerful migrant fragrance.
“I have a yellow one in my small Laguna Beach yard,” Claudia Redfern wrote.  “The flowers are very fragrant and even more so on a dry summer evening.  I feel that the scent migrates quite nicely and it is a very fast growing plant.  I trim and think to myself oh my what have I done but it seems like within the week the plant has filled in to just like it was before I trimmed it.”
“I’ve had neighbors on the street ask me what they’re smelling,” Eva Mayer, of Riverside, related regarding her angel’s trumpet.  “I’ve found the double whites to be more fragrant than the pink variety.”
And then Trina Medof, from Chatsworth, told the following story:  “My experience with migrant fragrance was with the poisonous Datura plant.  I discovered a barely opened white flower in a neglected corner of my yard. It was just getting dark outside. I picked it, brought it in and put its stem in a vase of water downstairs . Several hours later as I came back down the stairs I started smelling something intoxicating. With each step the fragrance was stronger and more exhilarating. I couldn’t believe it was just the one flower giving off such a heady scent. By this time the flower was fully open and almost glowing white. It scented the entire downstairs. When I got home from work the next day the plant was gone from my yard. My gardener was familiar with Datura’s dangerous properties and made sure to tell me he had gotten rid of a really bad weed!”
Datura, a ground cover closely related to angel’s trumpet, with similar looking white flowers, has an unpleasant odor.  The “exhilarating” fragrance you describe could only have come from an angel’s trumpet which, it must be said, is also toxic.
Grace Hampton, of Burbank, enthused as follows:  “My star jasmine plant was so fragrant it smelled like a million cakes baking.  I grew it from a cutting and planted it by the front porch.  You could smell it out to the street, but only on a warm humid night.  An outstanding fragrant plant I had was Pereskia aculeata – a leafy cactus.  The flowers were like orange blossoms and so fragrant they could be smelled all through the house.  Also, they attracted hummingbirds and all sorts of good insects.  Another fragrant flower was that of Cryptocereus anthonyanus – a night blooming epiphyte (climbing, thornless cactus) that smells like a rose, only 10 times as strong!”

Arabian jasmine (Jasminum sambac)

Tip of the Week:  Joy Williamson, from Saugus, sent this testimonial:  “I have an Arabian jasmine (Jasminum sambac) between my front porch and front bedroom window under eaves protected from frost.  It’s fragrant day and night in porch and bedroom.  Not overpowering, just mildly pleasant.”  Arabian jasmine, for full sun to light shade, will grow to around five feet tall, either in the ground or in a container.  Given trellis support, it will exhibit a vining growth habit.

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