A few years ago, I was visiting Lima in December when suddenly, a sweet perfume came floating through the warm afternoon air. For a moment I was taken aback, until I realized the smell was none other than the scent of roses. And rounding the corner there they were, a stunning collection of velvety, deep pink blooms beckoning me into their fragrant garden.
ON THE SCENT
In the plant world, fragrance guides pollinators to flowers that are ready to be fertilized. And in the human world, fragrance is a source of attraction, too. But in lieu of pollinators, it seduces the senses, luring different individuals to different flowers. This experience can stir emotions, evoke powerful memories and provide an overall sense of well-being.
Lilacs are one of the best spring scents
Fragrance has always played a key role in the garden. And now, in a growing trend, it is being recognized as a quality worth cultivating all on its own. A fragrant garden is a new style that is adding an exciting dimension to gardening. When carefully choreographed, the gradual release of scent over time can enhance our outdoor experience. And it can deepen our appreciation for the individual plants in our garden.
CHOOSING A SITE
A fragrant garden plays many roles. First, it can alter emotions. Studies show that certain fragrances can improve people’s emotional and spiritual well-being while potentially reducing depression and/or anxiety. This may explain why a purposeful combination of aromatic plants often brings a sense of peace and relaxation.
Place scented plants along a walkway or by a bench
And why not harness that effect? Try grouping scented plants near a patio or seating area where they can be quietly inhaled. Or, site them close to the house where they can serve as an indoor-outdoor transition. Keeping your fragrant garden close to home will not only make harvesting plants easy, but also allow their aromas to carry inside.
Plant a fragrant garden under a window for a powerful effect
At other times, fragrance can evoke memories, while freeing positive emotions of happiness or well-being. For me, it’s the delicate aroma of pansies. One small whiff and I am instantly transported back in time to our neighbor’s garden. His tiny collection of purple pansies was my very first experience with flowers. I can still remember, at age 5, the thrill of touching those velvety blooms.
Fragrance can evoke memories.
Indeed, even the smallest fragrant garden can have a big impact on our sense of well-being. For instance, by siting scented plants along a walkway it allows them to release their aromas when people touch or brush by them. This unexpected experience can produce a powerful effect.
Whatever location you choose for your scented plants, make sure it’s a sunny, well-sheltered site. Enclosed spaces work best because they not only protect delicate blooms but also help concentrate the plants’ individual scents. And this heightens the overall effect of the garden.
DESIGNING A FRAGRANT GARDEN
A well-designed fragrant garden follows the same tiered layout of the perennial garden. That is, it consists of a mix of tall, medium and low-growing plants that each complement each other. When designing your garden, make sure to plan for a succession of blooms that balances fragrance along with leaf shape, texture and flower color.
That being said, never fixate on just one scent. This can quickly become overpowering and detract from the overall interest of the garden.
A good rule of thumb is to use taller, scented shrubs as a backdrop to your fragrant garden, or select just one as an anchor. And remember to site medium-sized plants forward of larger shrubs. Most importantly, save low-growing, sweet-scented perennials, annuals and herbs for the front of the garden.
WHAT TO PLANT IN YOUR FRAGRANT GARDEN
Below you’ll find a list of shrubs, perennials, annuals and bulbs known for their intoxicating scents (most of which I’ve had experience with.) Depending on the size of your garden, you can choose one or a few from each list to create your own custom mix of smells. Remember to plan for a succession of bloom times, which will keep your fragrant garden going all season long. (Click on the links to learn more about each plant.)
Lilac, Syringa cultivars
Korean spice bush, Viburnum carlesii
Mock Orange, Philadelphus ‘Belle Etoile’
Daphne x transatlantica ‘Blafra’ Eternal Fragrance
Sweet Olive, Osmanthus fragrans ‘Fudingzhu’
Winter Honeysuckle, Lonicera fragrantissima
Camellia, Camellia sasanqua, Camellia lutchuensis hybrids
Sweetbay Magnolia (small tree)
Chinese Witch Hazel, Hamamelis mollis
Sweet Autumn Clematis, Clematis paniculata
Chocolate Cosmos, Cosmos atrosanguineus (Really does smell like chocolate!)
Hosta ‘Honeybells’, Hosta plantaginea
Lemon lily, Hemerocallis lilioasphodelus
Lily of the Valley, Convallaria majalis
Peony ‘Festiva Maxima’ (white), Eden’s Perfume (pink), Raspberry Sundae (cherry pink)
Scented Geranium, Pelargonium crispum ‘Prince Rupert’
Heliotrope, Heliotropium arborescens
Lavender, Lavandula x intermedia ‘Provence’
Phlox paniculata ‘Blue Paradise’ (More purple than blue, but highly fragrant)
Pot Marigold, Calendula officinalis
Sweet Alyssum, Lobularia maritima Highly fragrant, cool-season annual
Lavender, Lavendula x intermedia Provence
Pineapple Sage, Salvia elegans
Galanthus ‘S. Arnott’
Hyacinth, Hyacinth orientales
Daffodil, Triandrus Narcissus ‘Thalia’
Want to learn more? Check out this great book by Rosemary Verey, The Scented Garden, my go-to reference for all fragrant plants and how to combine them into beautiful compositions.
Do you have a favorite scented plant you’d like to add to the list? Feel free to reply above or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(This post was updated February 2019)