Tag Archives: Moon Vine

The Fragrant Garden

The Fragrant Garden

Part Two

Located on the southeast side of our home is the primary pathway, which we walk up and down many times in the course of the day. We built the path using bricks from a pile of discarded chimney bricks. Ordinarily I would not recommend chimney bricks, as they are fired differently from paving bricks and are therefore less sturdy. We laid the brick in a herring bone pattern and luckily they have held without cracking and splitting. The warm red tones of the brick complement the creamy yellow clapboards of the house. A tightly woven brick path is a practical choice for a primary path as it helps keep mud out of the home.

Planted alongside the house walls and on the opposing side of the path, in close proximity to our neighbor’s fence, are the larger plantings of Magnolia virginiana, ‘Dragon Lady hollies,’ Syringa, Philadelphus, and semi-dwarf fruiting trees, Prunus and Malus. Weaving through the background tapestry of foliage and flowers are fragrant flowering vines and rambling roses. These include the most richly scented cultivars of honeysuckle and Bourbon roses. Viburnum carlcephalum, butterfly bushes, meadowsweet, New Jersey tea, and Paeonia rockii comprise a collection of mid-size shrubs. They, along with perennials, bulbs, and annuals—narcissus, tulips, iris, herbaceous peonies, lavender, Russian sage, lilies, and chrysanthemums —are perfect examples of fragrant plants growing at mid-level. Closer to the ground is a carpet of scented herbs, full and abundant and spilling onto the brick walkway. The length of our pathway is lined with aromatic alpine strawberries, thyme, and sweet alyssum. This most sunny area in our garden permits us to grow a variety of kitchen herbs. The foliage of the herbs releases their scents when brushed against. Including herbs in the flower borders provides an attractive and practical addition to the fragrant garden.

Mock Orange (Philadelphus 'Innocence') Red Admiral ButterflyMock Orange (Philadelphus ‘Innocence’) and the Friendly Red Admiral Butterfly

The fragrances are held within by the house and neighboring fence and the living perfumes of flowers and foliage are noticeable throughout the growing season. All the plants are immediately available to see, touch, and smell. The intimate aspects of the garden are revealed by the close proximity of plantings along a much-used garden path.

Native Sweetbay Magnolia (Magnolia virginiana)

Cecropia Moth (male) on Sweetbay Magnolia virginianaMale Cecropia Moth on Sweetbay Foliage

When selecting plants for a fragrant garden, it is not wise to assume that just because your Mom had sublimely scented peonies growing in her garden, all peonies will be as such. This simply is not the case. Take the time to investigate nurseries and arboretums during plants’ blooming period and read as much literature as possible. There is an abundance of information to be gleaned and sifted through to find the most richly scented version of a plant. When seeking a fragrant cultivar, one may find that it is usually an older variety, one that has not had scent replaced for an improbable color, convenient size, or double blossoms by a well-meaning hybridizer. And despite our best effort to find the most richly scented version, there will be disappointments along the way, as fragrance is highly mutable. Soil conditions and climate play their role, and some plants simply don’t perform as advertised.

Paeonia rockiiPaeonia rockii

A well-thought-out pathway looks inviting when seen from the street and the fragrance beckons the visitor to enter. The interwoven scents emanating from an array of sequentially blooming flowers and aromatic foliage create a welcoming atmosphere. Have you noticed your garden is more fragrant after a warm summer shower or on a day when the morning fog has lifted? Scented flowers are sweetest when the air is temperate and full of moisture. Plant your garden of fragrance to reflect the time of year when you will most often be in the garden to enjoy your hard work.

There are few modern gardens planted purely for fragrance. Maybe this is because there is now a tremendous variety of appealing plant material, offered by growers to eager gardeners ready to purchase what is visually enticing, by color and by size. Perhaps it is so because in the past fragrant plantings served the function of disguising unpleasant odors from outhouses and farmyards, and we no longer have to address these concerns. But the pendulum has begun to swing (albeit slowly) toward planting a garden designed for fragrance. Scent, along with rhythm, scale, harmony in color, and form, should ideally be an equal component in garden design. Plant scented flowering shrubs under windows and close to and around the porch. Plant fragrant vines to climb up the walls near window sashes that will be open in the summertime. Plant scented white flowering plants near to where you might brush against them while dining al fresco or to embower a favorite garden spot designed for rest and rejuvenation.

“True vespertine flowers are those that withhold their sweetness from day and give it freely at night. “(Louise Beebe Wilder). Imagine the dreamlike enchantment of the fragrant path through the night garden. The vibrantly colored flowers have vanished. All that you will see are the white and palest shades of pink, yellow, and lavender flowers reflecting the moonlight. Perhaps you will have the breathtaking experience of an encounter with a Lunar moth.  Syringa vulgaris ‘Beauty of Moscow,’ Madonna lily, Philadelphus, Japanese honeysuckle, Lilium regale, Nicotianna alata, Oriental lily, tuberose, night phlox, peacock orchid, Stephanotis floribunda, gardenia, Jasminum sambac, Angel’s trumpet, and moonflowers are but a few of the white flowers with exotic night-scents for an entrancing sleeping garden.

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:

Its loveliness increases; it will never

Pass into nothingness; but still will keep

A bower quiet for us, and a sleep

Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.

— J o h n K e a t s ( 1 7 9 5 – 1 8 2 1 )

Excerpt from Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! (David R. Godine, Publisher)

Moon Vine

It was my joy to give the lecture, held at the Wenham Museum’s North Shore Design Show, on gardening for fragrance. Thank you to Lindsay, Yvonne, Leon, Pauline, Elizabeth, Julie, Lisa, Sandra, Polly, Eliza, and everyone else whose name I did not get, for your interest and great questions.

No garden planted for fragrance would be complete without growing moon vine. Plant moonflowers and cypress vines in late May and early June for September blossoms. Moon vine will give you dreamily-scented late summer nights and cardinal climber will provide nectar for southward migrating Ruby-throated hummingbirds

Moon Vine, Moonflowers (Ipomoea alba)Our moon vine-embowered porch in September

“You can tell in the afternoon which buds will open that night. In the South, where I used to live, it was the custom to keep an eye on the moon vine, and when sixty or so buds showed they would open that night, to ask people over to watch them. Unfortunately, people in the country talk so much that I cannot recall seeing the buds open very often. They tremble and vibrate when they open. Usually someonewould say “the flowers are out,” and everyone would run over to admire them, then back to jabbering.

Equally festive is the night-blooming cereus. In our neighborhood there lived an old cereus in a tub. It was ninety-seven years old, the last time I saw it, and produced 120 flowers open at once. When it bloomed (and you can tell by afternoon which buds will open) its proud owner would phone round the neighbors and there would be punch or champagne (rather dangerous in hot weather) and cucumber sandwiches for refined persons, and ham and potato salad for mere mortals. These parties, once such a feature of the American summer, were always spontaneous, since you only had a few hours to plan them and invite people. It was always astonishing to see how many people could come at the last minute.”

— Henry Mitchell ~ The Essential Earthman


Ruby-throated Hummingbird and Cardinal Climber, Cypress Vine Ipomoea x multifida

Perhaps this is the summer we will have our first moon vine party–and I will provide tea sandwiches for my refined friends and ham and potato salad for we mere mortals. What fun to imagine. Grow cardinal climber and moon vine together for a delightful combination of delicately toothed  and bold heart-shaped leaves–day flowering red trumpets for the hummingbirds and night blooming sweetly scented blossoms for you.

*Logees Greenhouse carries night-blooming cereus (Epiphyllum oxypetalum).