A garden without plenty of plants which have the sort of fragrance which is free on the air is not much of a garden to me. Nothing about a plant quickens my acquisitiveness the way fragrance does. We expect it during the mild, growing months. In late winter I eagerly search out the first fragrant flowers of the nascent year. In the winter it's a fleeting and only occasional presence in our climate. But of all seasons it's the autumn when fragrance really moves me. The first wisps of wood smoke in the neighborhood, the scent of fallen apples, the moldering scent of oak leaves and the flowering of certain autumn blooming shrubs give this season a poignancy which I find uniquely and profoundly moving.
Three shrubs particularly valuable in our climate for autumnal bloom and fragrance are shown here left to right: the autumn olive Elaeagnus pungens, the witch hazel Hamamelis virginiana and the hybrid osmanthus, Osmanthus × fortunei. All are blooming in the garden now and make sunny afternoons all the more pleasurable with their commingled scents.
The Hamamelis is a part of the local flora, but the plants blooming in the garden now are the result of my sometimes unobservant gardening practices: they have grown up from the roots on which choice grafted cultivars are grafted. Last year one of these upstarts bloomed so handsomely that I was glad to have it. This year I notice that much of what I thought was Hamamelis × ‘Primavera’ is blooming now with small yellow flowers. A close examination shows that only a few branches of ‘Primavera’ remain. The big plant of ‘Feuerzauber’ can now easily be seen to be about 2/3 Hamamelis virginiana.
It’s time to make lemonade from lemons: I intend to cut a big bouquet of Hamamelis virginiana stems to decorate the fireplace for the week end.
I’ve never seen Osmanthus × fortunei for sale locally, but the readily available O. heterophyllus is even better for scent. It combines especially well with the scent of wood smoke. There are parts of
where old gardens are full of it, and nearby fireplaces provide the other element of this enchanting combination. Georgetown
The autumn olive (which is not an olive but rather an oleaster: aster in this sense means inferior or spurious) is the most potently scented of the three. So strong and free is the fragrance that it can be detected in interstate median plantings as one passes at 80 mph!
There is another fragrant shrub or small tree of the season which I have not mentioned: Camellia sasanqua. It will get a posting of its own.