HOW DOES A WHIFF of garden fragrance sound right now—a virtual noseful from an unexpected source: vines and climbers? It includes some headlines in the world of plant breeding—new fragrant clematis with colorful, showy flowers. Vine expert Dan Long suggests these, and more, plus a chance to win some for your garden.
Dan Long–proprietor of Brushwood Nursery aka gardenvines.com–is celebrating 15 years of selling an impressive assortment of hundreds of vining and climbing plants. He joined me from Athens, Georgia, on the latest radio show and podcast, to give us a tour through some upwardly mobile choices in the world of scented things. (Details on how to listen and subscribe free to the program are at the bottom of the page.)
my fragrant-vine q&a with dan long
Q. I mentioned the recent headlines of new fragrant Clematis–so maybe let’s start there before we talk jasmines and honeysuckles and even some passion flowers and climbing roses, among the many delicious possibilities.
When I think fragrant clematis I think of C. montana with tons of tiny flowers covering a trellis, or maybe the sweet autumn clematis, C. terniflora (again with masses of tiny blooms). But how did these new varieties come to pass?
A. A friend of mine in Netherlands, Ton Hannink, developed them. I hesitate to say he is an amateur breeder–because he is very good at what he does and has been at it for two decades, but it is not his profession.
Ton has been working with his connections around the world and with some really rare and interesting species, and worked with one rare fragrant species to come up with these hybrids that are gorgeous, have a terrific fragrance, and a whole new color range–lavender and blue. And the fragrance is not shy at all.
Sugar-Sweet Blue [above photo, left] has a wonderful like gardenia scent, and Sugar-Sweet Lilac [above right] has been likened to orange blossoms. These two (hardy in Zones 5-9) were the first ones in the new Sugar-Sweet Series that Ton thought were really ready to introduce.
Q. How big are the blooms, and how tall are the plants?
A. The blooms are not as big as the large-flowered Clematis hybrids, but run more like the viticella hybrids size-wise. All have about the same habit–they’ll grow 6 to 9 feet tall, and they are disease resistant.
Q. What pruning group are they in–anything tricky?
A. They are definitely different in that they bloom in spring, but are classed by the breeder as pruning group 3 (meaning you cut them to the ground late each winter). However, they are quick and aggressive early on to refill a trellis, unlike the typical group 3 types that start flowering in summer or even later. So far, we’ve found them to be very easy to grow. [A how-to with Dan Long on how to prune clematis is here.]
A. Passiflora ‘Chambord’ (Zones 9-10, above left photo) has a lovely flower, and a really clean, sweet fragrance—many passion flowers have more of a musky scent that some people like, and others don’t. Some other sweetly fragrant ones are Passiflora cyanea and P. x. allardii [above right].
So many of the passion flowers can be grown in a container, and simply brought into a sunny window in the winter. Sometimes you can even get them to perform indoors, not just tolerate it.
A. Many of the jasmines are hardy up into Zone 7, and a few are hardy up into Zone 6. One of my favorites is a Jasminum officinale with golden-chartreuse foliage and fragrant white flowers—it’s called ‘Fiona Sunrise’ [above left] and is great in combination with a blue or purple Clematis. It takes a couple of years before it blooms, and has been recorded as fully hardy up into Zone 6.
Q. If you wanted to grow one of these vines in a pot, and bring them in for winter protection, how big a pot?
A. My pat answer is: a half-barrel. A lot of room for roots, a lot of buffer for drought so you don’t have to water three times a day in the summer–and when you put vines up on an 8-foot trellis, they become a giant sail. In a barrel, they don’t tip over the way a smaller pot would on a windy day.
Q. Other “jasmines”?
A. For a really powerful fragrance, the Confederate jasmines, in the genus Trachelospermum, are really good. One that’s fairly hardy: the selection T. jasminoides ‘Madison’ [above right] which is hardy to Zone 7, and evergreen. Some Confederate jasmines have very interesting variegated foliage as well.
A. The one people think of right away is Japanese honeysuckle. A lot of people mistakenly believe Japanese honeysuckle is a native, because it is so widespread everywhere, but it’s an invasive plant.
What I like to recommend instead are the Dutch honeysuckles, Lonicera periclymenum, like the great selections ‘Belgica’ and ‘Sweet Sue’ and ‘Munster’ and ‘Winchester’ [last two left and right, respectively, in photo above]. There’s a wonderful compact one, Lonicera periclymenum var. serotina ‘Florida.’ All are selections of the species native to that part of Europe.
Q. Are any American species fragrant, like L. sempervirens?
A. They are not fragrant at all, not even a little bit. They are wonderful plants in their own right, and support hummingbirds and butterflies, and then songbirds that eat their berries, but they sadly have no fragrance.
Q. I guess we have to mention Wisteria, but it’s always been a plant that makes me nervous!
A. Yes, especially the Asian wisteria. There are Wisteria species that are native and they are well behaved in the garden–though they still become large plants. But they don’t eat your oak tree, they don’t send runners under every surface. And they are fragrant–but similar to the passion flowers I talked about earlier, it’s a musky fragrance, which is another reason the Asian ones were so popular, because they had a sweet fragrance.
For wisteria, even the native one, I recommend 4-by-4’s at the minimum for support, or steel pipe. It’s not about the mass of the plant, but a mature plant has the ability to crush the support.
Q. Any other genera that we should touch on?
A. Kiwi, or Actinidia, is only lightly fragrant, and they flower down in the plant, so you won’t catch a whiff of them from 20 feet away. They’re pretty and the fruit is delicious, though.
A. I really like ‘Compassion’ (which is a rich pink, Zones 6-10; photo above left) and ‘Albertine’ (a paler pink for Zones 7-11; bottom right photo in top-of-page collage).
A lot of folks are familiar with ‘Zephirine Drouhin’ [photo above right]—which has a nice pink color and a good fragrance and is known for being nearly thornless and tolerating shadier conditions and poorer soil than many other roses.
I had the good fortune to go to Sissinghurst a few years ago, and I saw ‘Madame Alfred Carriere’ (Zone 7-9) on a wall of growing up a building to the second story. We talk about cutting flowers to bring indoors—but all you had to do in that case was open the window. It’s a really tall rose.
‘Crepuscule’ [photo left, and detail in top collage] is a recent fragrance of mine—a sort of apricot color. It grows well farther North (at least to Zone 7) and also down here, even in our heat and humidity.
Q. When do I prune my climbing roses?
A. When you feel like it! They don’t the follow the rigid rule like shrubs roses–they’re more forgiving. You just want to basically shape them up.
Late winter’s often a good time, because you can see which stems have died, and uncross crossing ones (if they’re flexible stems), or cut out the crosses (if they’re rigid ones). With the once-bloomers (non-repeaters), you can also do some cleanup after bloom, for instance.
prefer the podcast?
DAN LONG and I talked fragrant climbers on the latest radio podcast. You can listen anywhere, anytime: Locally, in my Hudson Valley (NY)-Berkshires (MA)-Litchfield Hills (CT) region, “A Way to Garden” airs on Robin Hood Radio’s three stations on Monday at 8:30 AM Eastern, with a rerun at 8:30 Saturdays. It is available free on iTunes, the Stitcher app, or streaming from RobinHoodRadio.com or via its RSS feed. The March 3, 2014 show can be streamed here now. Robin Hood is the smallest NPR station in the nation; our garden show marks the start of its fifth year in March, and is syndicated via PRX.
how to win fragrant vines and climbers
I’VE PURCHASED A $25 Brushwood Nursery gift certificate to share with a lucky winner. All you have to to to enter is answer this question in the comments box at the bottom of the page:
What are your favorite garden scents–and where do they come from? (Tell us where you garden–what Zone or region or state.)
Me: I’m crazy about aromatic things such as the foliage of rosemary or mint, but among more perfume-like aromas, the clove currant; early blooming Viburnum carlesii, and of course lilacs are pretty incredible contributors to spring here.
No answer, or feeling shy? Just say “count me in” or something like that, and I will. The winner will be selected after entries close at midnight Sunday, March 10. Good luck to all.
(All photos courtesy of and copyright Brushwood Nursery.)