The time of the fragrance

Summer splits into three parts for me: the time of the colours, the time of the fragrance, and the time of the grass. Mid-July is the time of the fragrance. Most of the scent comes from philadelphus, probably my favourite shrub. Although I grow a couple of the dwarf varieties, they don’t do very well with me, and I rely on the larger types. On the clay bank below the house, there are p.’Virginal’, p.’Belle etoile’, p. ‘Sybille’ and another variety whose name I have forgotten, if I ever knew it. Here is p. ‘Belle etoile’ with its splash of lilac at the base of the petals. Thirty-five years old, and still flowering as reliably as ever.On a fine evening after rain, the scent wafts up to the terrace in great gusts, lifted by the inevitable Scottish wind.

With a few exceptions, I don’t go in for roses. To my mind, they are temperamental brutes, dealing out painful wounds that go septic, and subject to the vapours, not to mention aphids and mildew. Also, they go brown the instant it rains (which it does a lot here). This one, rosa ‘Ispahan’, is one of the exceptions. It’s a damask rose, with a strong and heady perfume, and it’s virtually indestructible, sending out flowering shoots to six feet or more. I’ve lashed it into a bush of viburnum fragrans (a boring shrub in summer) and I let the two of them compete. I occasionally hack back the old wood, and it never seems to mind. More subtle pruning or dead heading, I don’t have time for…..

Finally, the bog myrtle (myrica gale)This shrub grows wild throughout the highlands of north and west Scotland, yet never once have I seen it for sale in a garden centre or nursery. No one seems to consider it a garden plant, which is strange, as all it needs is an acid soil and plenty of water. Its scent is indescribable, sweet and astringent at the same time, but instantly recognisable, and, after rain, drifts across the pond in clouds. Better still, it is a natural insect repellent, and a few crushed leaves rubbed over the skin keep the midges at bay.

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3 thoughts on “The time of the fragrance

    • It’s probably a question of height as much as latitude. I’m at 600 feet above sea level – in Edinburgh, at sea level, the philadelphus is more or less over. That said, the south of England is usually three to four weeks ahead of me, especially in Spring

  1. It’s a end of June/into July flowering shrub with me . And we are quite sheltered by the coast. Maybe if we had a bit of warm weather it would flower earlier. Well worth waiting for…

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