Sweet-smelling blossoms stir fond memories and welcome the warm days of summer.
Southern air is different. I know this, having grown up in New York City's shadow. The air down here is soft with fragrance and sometimes intoxicatingly bold.
Summer offers countless scented flowers. These five illustrate the numerous ways to bring enjoyment to your garden. Ask about a favorite, and you’re bound to get a story.
Gardenia (Gardenia jasminoides)
"I believe this flower is as much a staple in a Southerner's garden as cornmeal is in the kitchen pantry. I love the fragrance and the stark contrast of dark green, glossy leaves and bright white blooms. It is so classy and elegant." --Dianne Bass, Quincy, Florida
Light: Plant in full sun or light that's filtered through trees.
Water and soil: Gardenias prefer acid soil and consistent moisture; feed once a month during the growing season with a plant food such as Miracle-Gro Water Soluble Azalea, Camellia, Rhododendron Plant Food 30-10-10 or fish emulsion.
Garden secret: Some selections, such as 'August Beauty' and 'Chuck Hayes,' bloom in June and again in late summer or early fall. Read the plant tag for the selection name and blooming habits.
Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora)
"I love the smell of magnolia when the wind blows. Its gentle scent turns a breeze sweet." --Melvin Brown, Birmingham Light: Full sun keeps these stately trees full and lush, although they adapt to partial shade as well.
Water and soil: Magnolias prefer well-drained, rich soil. Newly planted trees must be well watered during the first several growing seasons.
Garden secret: Choose the selection carefully; some classic Southern magnolias may reach 80 feet tall when mature. But others, such as 'Little Gem,' slowly climb to a petite 20 feet. A named selection ensures the characteristics you require.
Oriental lily (Lilium sp.)
"As a child, I thought the rubrum lily was the most exotic flower I'd ever seen. Now, with a garden full of lilies, my wife, Yates, and I have learned to separate the selections. Each has its own perfume and benefits from a little breathing room." --Tommy Amason, Birmingham
Light: Bulbs should be shaded by other plants, with foliage and flowers in full sun or filtered light.
Water and soil: Oriental lilies require loose, well-drained soil. In heavy clay, add copious amounts of leaf mold, peat, or soil conditioner. Water bulbs consistently throughout the year.
Garden secret: Grow lilies in containers; while they're blooming, you can bring them close to the house for fragrance where you want it.
Four o'clock (Mirabilis jalapa)
"I remember my grandparents' property being littered with four o'clocks. As the sun would set, the air would turn sweet. Now, when I design large gardens with extra space, I always include this plant to remind us of simpler times. My clients are always surprised and fall in love with it." --Joseph Hillenmeyer, Lexington, Kentucky
Light: Full sun or slightly filtered light suits them.
Water and soil: Once seeds have germinated, this undemanding plant withstands dry Southern summers, perking up and reblooming with occasional rainfall.
Garden secret: Four o'clocks scatter seeds and spread indiscriminately. In the Lower South, they are perennial plants that form tubers, while in the Upper South they behave as annuals. They provide abundant seeds to share; be sure you want them before you sow.
Ginger lily (Hedychium coronarium) "A friend, who had gardened in Louisiana before moving to Houston, had ginger lily in her yard. We would get together--her kids and mine--for afternoon playtime. One day she gave me a cut bloom to take home; it perfumed the entire house and brought this peaceful calm into a bustling house full of small children." --Josephine Shanks, Houston
Light: Ginger lily adapts to full sun or light shade.
Water and soil: Plant tubers in soil rich with organic matter. Ginger lilies love water, making them good choices for a damp location.
Garden secret: Tuck them into the back corner of a garden for endless fragrance at summer's end. Tall plants may require staking.
"5 Fragrant Flowers" is from the June 2007 issue of Southern Living.