If you were to raid some of my rare early performers for a vase arrangement, I would probably leap upon you and beat you to death with a spade. Hence there is a large bunch of purchased lilies glowing in the sunlight, stinking up the hall with a perfume so heavy that it impedes respiration. In the front garden, masses of violets are beginning to show buds and I will collect these in tiny posies when they show their best. In a few months’ time, the jasmine will flower in the conservatory and I shall open all the doors to fill my home with the heady scent of a house of ill repute. Female visitors are not allowed to tour in the company of a man of any age without a chaperone, for fear that either party will throw off their inhibitions along with their underwear.
Galanthus nivalis (snowdrop)
Outside, some pinks are performing; all of the Dianthus tribe are notably fragrant. My favourite is “Mrs. Sinkins” with that magical bouquet and white, windblown petals. Although untidy like a lanky old lady in a tatty hat, she can be tamed with shears after blooming, unlike real seniors, who tend to fight back fiercely. Biennial D. barbatus (sweet william) is easy from seed and most of the perennial types strike quickly from cuttings. Lonicera (honeysuckle) is delectable for summer if you have the space and a taste for pruning. Roses are the essence of the sight and smell of a garden in high season, Wisteria is matchless for grace and aroma, Cheiranthus (wallflowers) are great for a cheap hit for the senses. I don’t like lavender, so you can stick that in your ear, not my nose.
Pond and fountain
Fabulous Freesias are tender, with bulbs on sale now for exposing to the elements when the last frost has passed. I plant in pots, which I keep in the lee of a south facing wall for winter protection. You haven’t lived until you’ve tried an unassuming shrubby perennial Aloysia citriodora (lemon verbena), which is not hardy, the foliage looks ordinary and the blossom is utterly underwhelming. Brush past it and the belt of citrus is so powerful, it will blow your socks off, as well as any other loose clothing. The leaves may be used in baking, so what’s not to like? Herbs have strong scent of course and I use thyme, rosemary and marjoram for cooking and attracting butterflies but not at the same time. Mint is wonderful despite being a rambunctious spreader. Varieties include variegated pineapple or ginger and tall growing apple mint which I train through a garden chair, resulting in perfumed posteriors.
Waiting for spring
With regard to shrubs, Choisya (Mexican orange) doesn’t work well for me, I hope that you do better. Daphne is a heartbreaker which doesn’t tolerate drought or water logging and is notable for the speed with which it turns up its toes in my custody. Lilac is lovely for a fortnight, after which it turns into a leafy mountain studded with persistent scabby brown remains of the blossom. Hamamelis (witch hazel) has a delicious spring presence, so does Chimonanthus praecox (wintersweet) and Sarcococca confusa (sweet box). Philadelphus (mock orange) will perfume an entire garden, possibly the whole road. On a grand scale, it’s difficult to beat the smeech of Arum dracunculus (dragon’s arum), whose striking burgundy spathes reek of decaying flesh, in order to attract bluebottle pollinators. The niff is so obnoxious, it keeps me indoors for a fortnight and unable to face my neighbours, for fear of what they are thinking.