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Fragrant Flowers and True Blue Blossoms

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IS scent an "optional extra" in the garden? Stephen Lacey thinks it too often is but argues that it could effectively be a more integral part of planning, planting, and enjoying something that is still basically visual. "The aim," he observes in "Scent in Your Garden,should be to have a garden that entertains the nose at every turn on every day of the year." No season lacks scented plants, even if it is the foliage rather than the flower at some times that bewitches or assaults your olfactory sensitivity.

Lacey touches intriguingly on the "vague relationship" between color and scent: As a general rule, the less pigment the more scent. But - and this is the main body of his stimulating and useful book - his extensive and descriptive list of scented plants frequently includes plants with intensely strong color in their flowers that also pervade a warm summer evening with perfumes elusive or potent.

Some plants with wonderful scent are less than attractive (depending of course on individual taste). The shrub Mahonia aquifolium, which wows the nostrils early in the spring, is a spiky, dreary, green thing with congested yellow flowers, which I would have thought an unwelcome space-taker except for its scent. So clearly it should be in some obscure corner. On the other hand, plants with scent in winter really ought to be as near the front door as possible to be enjoyed. A paradox.

Lacey has much to say about siting scented plants for maximum relish, most of it good sense. However, his idea that small, scented spring bulbs, often endowed with marvelous but intimate scent, should be grown in beds raised high enough to be near the nose, does seem a little over the top.

But it would be impossible to read this highly informative book (illustrated by Andrew Lawson's consummate photographs, so rich and heady that you could almost imagine they exude perfume) without gaining an entirely fresh awareness of just how many garden plants are scented, and how relatively little we appreciate them.

Roses are of course, par excellence, scent flowers - and sweet peas, philadelphus, hyacinths, and sweet williams. But superlative fragrance also issues from certain kinds of rhododendron and magnolia - not to mention certain primulas, crocuses, wild cyclamen, clematis, and waterlilies and ... and ....

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