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Cultivating scents: Gardening for the nose

Last week an unexpected package was delivered to our doorstep. As I carefully began to unwrap it, a mesmerizing fragrance spread through the room. And there, nestled between layers of damp newspaper, I discovered a delightful gift from a gardening friend — two Star Jasmine plants (Trachelospemum jasminoides) direct from a specialty nursery in Raleigh, N.C., where she lives.
Star Jasmine is an exuberant vine from Southeast Asia that can grow up to 20 feet high. Its countless small white flowers exude the classic jasmine scent that has been used in lotions and potions for countless years.
Today my new plants, fully recovered from their journey, are off and climbing up the tall supports I anchored inside their two large pots. However, since I know full well that jasmine will never survive Vermont’s cold season, come September I will move them, pot and all, to winter in our cool greenhouse. Here they will be joined by various herbs, including a large bay laurel shrub, plus some rosemary and sage — which all goes to show the lengths to which we gardeners will go to satisfy our sense of smell, as well as that related sense, taste.
Many of our culinary herbs — including the classic parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme — release their scent on contact, particularly when you crush or rub their leaves. Each time I walk across our fieldstone patio I am rewarded by a whiff of the thyme that grows between the stones. Other garden plants, like bee balm, catnip, sweet alyssum and hyssop, also release their fragrance when you brush past them, so it is nice to plant them along the edge of a walkway.
But with some of our most beloved flowers — especially lilacs, peonies and roses — to fully experience their perfume you need to get up close and personal, and sink your nose right into to the blossom itself. These are truly plants to delight not only the eye but also the nose.
Here in my Goshen garden “lilac season,” with its the magical fragrance, starts in mid-May with the common lilacs, followed by the Dwarf Korean Lilac, then the Miss Kim Lilac and finally, toward the end of June, the late Preston Lilacs.
Then, somewhere around mid-June, the roses spring to life. I grow several hardy shrub roses that offer flowers with a pronounced “rose fragrance,” including the low-growing (around three feet high) pink Rosa “Charles Albanel” and its counterpart, the pure white Rosa “Blanc Double de Coubert.” Another of my favorites is the taller “Therese Bugnet” with fully double ruffled pink flowers and a delicate scent. Finally there are the oddly named duo, pink “Foxy Pavement” and its white counterpart “Snow Pavement” with flowers, scent and later lovely rosehips.
June is also “peony time” in Vermont and I feel that no garden can have enough peonies. But beware, some but not every peony is fragrant; so, if scent is important to you, check the description before you buy. I have two beautiful varieties also renowned for their fragrance; one is “Gold Standard” with two rows of crinkled white petals enclosing a center of frothy yellow stamens. The other goes by the fanciful name of “Raspberry Sherbet”; its deliciously scented flowers are a mass of pink petals merging to yellow in the center. I also have two lovely old-fashioned varieties “Sarah Bernhardt” and “Festiva Maxima,” which too have an intoxicating fragrance; their only drawback is that you need to support their heavy blooms with individual stakes before a heavy rain knocks them to the ground.
And finally there are those shrubs that are large enough and substantial enough that their flowers distribute their perfume far and wide in the garden. Plant a few of these near your gazebo or deck and your nose will be delighted.
For me the arrival of spring is heralded by the amazing fragrance of a Korean Spice Viburnum bush. Its flowers may be small but, for a week or more, they fill the garden with their perfume.
Then come summer-flowering azaleas that provide a sumptuous feast for both the nose and the eye. Often the word “azalea” triggers images of the magenta types that flower in April and are not particularly fragrant. But many people are less familiar with the extended clan of summer azaleas, with their beautiful delicately-colored blossoms that radiate an amazing fragrance that fills the garden. And, by choosing different varieties, you can have one or another azalea tickle your senses for a full two months.
Azaleas are actually members of the Rhododendron genus. But, unlike the better-known evergreen rhododendrons with their large glossy leaves, azaleas lose their leaves in winter, making them especially well suited to our Vermont climate. Indeed most of 

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