Sunday, September 25, 2011

Scents and sensibility

The Head Gardener and I took advantage of the warm weather at the top end of the weekend to go for a stroll down to the Kuripuni village for lunch.  It was very pleasant walking along in the sun, looking at the gardens and noticing how much spring has moved along in the past few weeks.  At one garden we stopped to look at a shrub growing over the fence line with wonderful racemes of chartreuse-yellow flowers.  The Head Gardener looked at me and said “That’s it, that’s it!”
I must have looked a little puzzled, as she gently reminded me that I had failed to identify a plant she had come home and asked about.  A work colleague had been given a bouquet which featured what she had described to me as “Lily of the Valley flowers, but from a shrub”. I knew she would not have meant the shrub usually called the Lily of the Valley, the Pieris as we have a couple of them in the garden.
At the time I just could not picture what she was walking about, but I really ought to have thought of this lovely shrub.  It is Stachyurus praecox, a deciduous plant so it has gone out offavour a little but it has a lot going for it, with a charming display of flowers in the spring before the glossy coppery-brown leaves unfurl.  At this time of the year it is very valuable for picking, the colour seeming to go with most colours, especially the golden colour we associate with daffodils and Forsythias.
There was another attraction in a garden a few houses down the road and I could not quite work out what it was at first.  A beautiful scent was drifting over the footpath – heady and sweet and fruity all at the same time.  I thought it was perhaps Daphne, but then I thought it was a bit sharper than that. When I had a closer look through the shrubbery I was astonished to see that it was a mix of at least three different scents, all within the same small garden.
Against the wall was a trimmed specimen of that charming semi-deciduous charmer, the hybrid Viburnum x burkwoodi. It is undoubtedly the most popular of the scented Viburnums in New Zealand, with tight clusters of pure white flowers at this time of the year, carrying a soft fragrance that I have seen described as being like that of baby powder – certainly less heady than Daphne. It has nice green foliage in the spring but grows a little sparsely and can look a little straggly until it is mature.  Clipping will help that but you need to be careful as if you clip it too hard you will knock the flowering back as well.
The semi-deciduous behaviour it shows is understandable as it is a hybrid between the evergreen V. utile and V. carlesii.  The former is a rare species in New Zealand, and I have never seen it offered, probably because it is not very attractive, but V. carlesii is usually findable and is a very fine deciduous shrub. It grows to about two metres and at this time of the year is covered with the most delightful pink-budded flowers, opening to white, and scented even better than V. x burkwoodii in my opinion.  You will find this in garden centres at this time of the year and it is well worth seeking out.  It always reminds me of my old gardening friend Henry Carle, who used to write this column when I was first interested in gardening, and who encouraged me over the years.

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