Sweet Violets, Jupiter’s Beard, and Paperwhites

Two weeks ago, I asked if any readers had sweet violets (Viola odorata) in their gardens.  Here are some of your responses:
“I have some sweet violets growing in my yard and they have been doing quite well.  The summer heat is a challenge, as the violets need to be in moist soil.  Mine are sentimental to me as they came from my parents’ former home in Northern California.” — Sharon Giordani, Temecula
“I brought the plants from my mother’s Studio City home when I moved here. She planted them in the 1940’s. They have a wonderful aroma but don’t last long in the house after they are picked. My husband mows the four foot square section of violets that have lived in the lawn for a long time. I share them with friends who say nothing grows for them but that this violet does.” — Joy Williamson, Saugus
“These started as volunteers a few years ago. They seem to flower with cold weather and have a lovely violet scent.  They are in an area, facing almost directly east, that gets a good amount of shade in winter and some sun in summer.” — Barbara Powell, Laguna Woods
Eva Mayer, in Riverside, has seen her violets, that “began as two small clumps,” fill up the space between her trees “over the years.”  She has a healthy contingent of Jupiter’s beard  growing among the violets, too.  Jupiter’s beard usually arrives in the garden as a volunteer and its deep rose-pink flowers go well with bluish-purple violets.  Both ground covers spread with alacrity but are not deeply rooted so that if they pop up in undesirable areas they can be removed permanently, with a little persistence, easily enough.
Although sweet violets and Jupiter’s beard are seldom sold in nurseries, they are readily available (search “Viola odorata” and “Centranthus ruber”) both as seeds and whole plants through vendors who advertise on eBay.
Anna Brownell asked about care of a popular gift plant.  “For Christmas I received a ‘Paperwhite’ Narcissus in a jar. Since the plant grows from a bulb, I presume it can be planted in the ground. When should I plant it? (I live near the Pacific ocean.) What steps should I take to ensure successful blooms after it is in the ground?”

Narcissus ‘Paper White’

‘Paperwhite’ narcissus is one of the most fragrant plants and can perfume an entire room with its scent.  It is also one of the easiest to grow as it does not need fertilization and, Mediterranean in origin, dependably spreads throughout the garden without summer irrigation.  After if finishes blooming, you can keep it indoors or plant it outside.  Since the ground never freezes near the ocean — and not in most other Southern California locales either, for that matter — you can plant virtually any plant in the ground at any time, including your ‘Paperwhites’, without hesitation.  The only exceptions would be certain subtropicals, of small size and not yet acclimated to your garden, that could be nipped by a frost.   You still want to make sure that the ground drains well.  As for planting depth, the rule of thumb is to plant any bulb at a depth equal to twice its thickness or diameter.  Take care not to remove leaves until they turn brown since as long as they are green they are making food that is sent down to the bulb for next year’s flowers.

After receiving your sweet violet and paperwhite e-mails, I did some research on fragrant plants and came across a wonderful term — “migrant fragrance” — that I wanted to bring to your attention.  It has been my experience that nearly all fragrant flowers — from hybrid tea roses to gardenias — do not waft their fragrances through the air.  To be olfactorily appreciated, you must stick your nose in them.
I would like to know more about flowers with migrant fragrance, those whose sweet scents migrate into and fill the garden, and invite you to e-mail your experiences with them.  Such flowers may be fully appreciated from a distance, without having to rudely plunge our noses into them.
I have found citrus tree blossoms to be the most powerful when it comes to migrant flower fragrance.  Even when a blooming orange tree is hidden from view, I can tell it’s there by the scent that fills the air.  While not migrating as far as orange blossom scent, star jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides), sweet olive (Osmanthus fragrans), and Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) can also be detected at some distance.  Although night-blooming jasmine (Cestrum nocturnum) is reputed to have the most far-reaching fragrance — up to 500 yards! — of any plant, I have yet to detect it, even when standing next to a blooming specimen at night.
Tip of the Week:  To test your soil for drainage, dig a hole one foot wide and one foot deep.  Fill it with water, let it drain, and then fill it again.  If the water drains through the second time in less than five minutes, drainage is fast and, while good for plants, you will want to add some compost to the hole to improve water retention for a year or two until the plant can develop a network of roots.  Still, you may have to be more attentive to the water needs of some plants in such soil.  If the water in your testing hole, the second time it’s filled, drains in five to fifteen minutes, it’s a sign that the drainage is fine for the growth of just about any plant.  If it takes more than fifteen minutes to drain, it will be a challenge to grow plants that need good drainage in that area.

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