The Victorian ladies described here are actually shrubs called Philadelphus. Their common name is Mock Orange, and they can be found leaning, and lounging and flouncing their long green skirts starred with white floral embroidery all during May and June in these latitudes. They’re a bit self conscious, a bit apt to pose for the tableau vivants of a June garden.
But then, if you were that good looking, so would you.
Mock oranges have always frustrated me just a little bit. Every time that I see one in a garden bed or a shrub border I hurry over, ready to huff in that distinctive blend of honeysuckle/orange blossom/jasmine that is the hallmark of the shrub, but I am frequently foiled. There are, you see, lots of kinds of Philadelphus and some of them have no smell at all. Those, in my opinion, are duds.
Among the non-duds are the Lemoine hybrids. They came about because a hybridizer Victor Lemoine (1823-1912 – hybridizers tend to be long-lived) crossed Philadelphus mirophyllus with P. coronarius to create a whole new generation of the bushes. Some like P. “Avalanche” have a distinctly fruity smell to them, something like pineapples, but others have a floral smell, sort of a floral chord. P. “Virginal” which is probably the most common sort you find in Northeastern American gardens, has a slightly fruity smell to me, like jasmine and honeysuckle, though just a little more refined than honeysuckle and with less “throw”. Then you can sometimes smell the rarities that have glorious scents, positive runs up the floral keyboard, starting at iris, passing through jasmine and culminating with a high note like gardenia. That’s the case with the old variety “Bouquet Blanc” a white bouquet that perfumes a whole garden border if you’re lucky enough to sniff one out. There’s not a whiff of musk to be found anywhere among their corsages.
Some of them can also be put to the very romantic use of creating a twilight garden. One of my sisters in law has grown an evening garden for years, including moonflowers in the show, but late flowering Philadelphus such as “Belle Etoile” keep on flowering into July and will produce the strongest scents after dark, when with the help of a little garden lighting or a full moon, you can enjoy the slightly creepy show of fragrant creamy flowers glowing across an expanse of well mowed lawn. It’s a bit more Wilkie Collins than Grand Guignol, but the effect is fine nonetheless.
There is one downside to Philadelphus and that is that they’re usually large. I seldom see them much under six feet, and the garden hybrids can be tender, meaning that they don’t survive winter temperatures below 0 fahrenheit (-18 C) in garden zones 7-10 in the US, but the species bushes are tougher and will tolerate below zero temps and go from zones 5-9. They are undemanding plants, will tolerate some degree of shade although, like everything, they prefer sun, and one of my old garden books say they require a “sweet “soil. I think this means a slightly basic soil which means lime- groan!
If you have a garden anything like the ones I have had, you will probably have acid clay because that is what most of us seem to end up with in the eastern US. This in turn means digging deep, and soil exchanging, and compost shoveling, and breathing in the lime you are supposed to be dropping in the planting hole, and the process is never complete without tramping the clay well into your front hall carpet.
If you are going to do anything, I say, do it completely, and the mud tracking is part of the process-in my case- you may be neater. But remember, these are Victorian ladies, you have to watch your P’s and Q’s, though they no doubt, will exercise a Victorian lady’s privilege, and never let you know just what exactly happened in the shrubbery.