The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

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Follow your nose to fragrant shrubs

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
State Master Gardener Coordinator
slmason@illinois.edu

Spring is the time to follow your nose to the source of heady aromas wafting through the landscape. Many flowers and leaves have fragrance; however, some are shy and we must charm them into exposing their perfume. We snuggle our noses into flowers or we caress their leaves to coax their fragrance. Fortunately some shrubs are perfectly willing to send their scent far and wide for anyone within nose shot to enjoy.

Lilacs are the quintessential springtime nose candy. For many of us lilacs in bloom are nostalgic reminders of our youth. Wrapped up in that fabulous fragrance is the comforting hug from grandma, the bone-warming feel of early summer sun and the edge-of-our-seats anticipation that school will soon be out.

Common lilac also called French lilac (Syringa vulgaris) is the lilac of our youth. Most Common lilac cultivars need room to move as they grow 8-15 feet tall and sucker readily. The flowers are very fragrant but unfortunately some cultivars can be disease prone. A few listed as powdery mildew resistant include 'Charles Joly' (double flowered purple), 'Madame Lemoine' (double flowered white), 'President Lincoln' (blue), 'Primrose' (creamy white) and 'Sensation' (purple and white bicolored petals).

Most of us think of Common lilacs with their portly flowers and grab-your-nose fragrance; however, numerous other lilac species and hybrids offer a wide array of flowers, flowering periods and plant sizes.

Flowering in mid-late May (a bit later than Common lilac) is Dwarf Korean lilac or Palibin lilac (Syringa meyeri 'Palibin'). With its smaller leaves and plant size (4-6 feet tall) it has many uses in the landscape. As with many smaller lilac species the pinkish purple flowers are not as bodacious as the common lilac, but the fragrance still packs a punch.

Manchurian lilac (Syringa pubescens subsp. patula) includes the ever popular 'Miss Kim' cultivar. As a 5-7 feet tall non-suckering and disease resistant shrub, it's perfect as a shrub border.

A group of hybrid lilacs include the Fairy Tale Series® with their small leaves, slow growth, non-suckering compact habit and good disease resistance. 'Bailbelle' (Tinkerbelle®) has wine red buds that open to deep pink flowers.

Josee® (light lavender-pink) and Bloomerang® (deep purple) are two reblooming lilacs. The flowers are not as large or fragrant as common lilac; however, blooms cover the shrubs in mid to late May. As temperatures cool in late summer rebloomers share a few more flowers.

Other shrubs for fragrance include several viburnums. One of my favorites for spring fragrance is Burkwood viburnum (Viburnum xburkwoodii). Not only does it grab you by the nose when it flowers but its leaves and overall shape make a striking addition to the landscape. The lustrous dark green leaves are semi-evergreen, hanging on well into early winter when they change to a burgundy color.

As with many viburnums these are not shrinking violets. Burkwoods can reach 8-10 feet tall and wide. Luckily a few relatively smaller cultivars exist. American Spice™ ('Duvone') is a smaller compact size at about 5 feet tall and retains the "rockum sockum" flower fragrance. 'Conoy' is smaller but lost its fragrance in development. 'Mohawk' maintains its size at 7-8 feet tall and has everything going for it with fabulous flowers, fragrance, fruit and fall color.

Koreanspice viburnum (Viburnum carlesii) as its common name implies is a shrub with a heady aroma to rival any lilac. Koreanspice can easily reach 8 feet tall so for smaller spaces select the relatively smaller cultivars. One of the hybrids of Koreanspice, Judd viburnum (Viburnum xjuddii) is also a winner by a nose with pink buds opening to white flowers. Judd viburnum does show more heat tolerance than its parent. At 8 feet tall Judd viburnums require an ample spot in the landscape but fear not, its fragrance will draw any visitor to it.

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