Top Plants for Creating A Year-Round Fragrant Garden

Rose pink

Years ago, I was visiting Lima in December when suddenly, a sweet perfume came wafting through the warm afternoon air. For an instant I was confused, 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.

lilac bush 2

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 an essence worth cultivating all on its own. A fragrant garden is a new twist adding an exciting dimension to gardening. When carefully choreographed, the gradual release of scent over time can enhance our outdoor experience. What is more, it can deepen our appreciation for the individual plants in our garden.

CHOOSING A SITE 

In everyday life, fragrance 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. 

wisteria

Place scented plants along a walkway or by a bench

And why not harness that effect? At home, try planting a group of scented plants near a patio or seating area where they can be quietly inhaled. Or, site them close to a window where they can serve as an indoor-outdoor transition. Positioning your fragrant garden close to the house will not only make harvesting plants easy, but also encourage their aromas to lift up and carry inside.

flowers under a window

Plant a fragrant garden under a window for a powerful effect

FRAGRANT GARDENS AND MEMORY

At other times, fragrance can evoke memories while releasing positive emotions of happiness and well-being. For me, it’s the delicate aroma of pansies. With just one whiff, I am instantly transported back in time to age 5 in our neighbor’s garden. He had a walkway edged with purple pansies. And to this day, I can still remember the intoxicating allure of those velvety blooms.

purple pansies

Fragrance can evoke memories.

Indeed, even the smallest fragrant garden can have a big impact on our sense of well-being. To illustrate, the simple act of positioning scented plants along a walkway allows them to release their aromas when people brush by them. This unexpected encounter can produce a powerful effect.

garden path
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 fragrances. And this, in turn, heightens the overall effect.

DESIGNING A FRAGRANT GARDEN

When designing your fragrant garden, follow the same tiered layout of the perennial garden. That is, include a mix of tall, medium and low-growing plants that each complement each other. Above all, 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.

white jasmine

Jasmine

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 have 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.)

SHRUBS

Lilac, Syringa cultivars

Korean spice bush, Viburnum carlesii

Mock Orange, Philadelphus  ‘Belle Etoile’

Gardenia cultivars

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

VINES

Jasmine, Jasminum

Sweet Autumn Clematis, Clematis paniculata

Wisteria

PERENNIALS

Chocolate Cosmos, Cosmos atrosanguineus (Really does smell like chocolate!)

Hosta ‘Honeybells’Hosta plantaginea

Hosta ‘Guacamole’

Lemon lilyHemerocallis lilioasphodelus

Lily of the Valley, Convallaria majalis

Peony ‘Festiva Maxima’ (white), Eden’s Perfume (pink), Raspberry Sundae (cherry pink)

Dianthus allwoodii ‘Agatha’

Scented Geranium, Pelargonium crispum ‘Prince Rupert’

Heliotrope, Heliotropium arborescens

LavenderLavandula x intermedia ‘Provence’ 

Phlox paniculata ‘Blue Paradise’ (More purple than blue, but highly fragrant)

ANNUALS

Nasturtium

Pot Marigold, Calendula officinalis

Sweet Peas

Sweet Alyssum, Lobularia maritima  Highly fragrant, cool-season annual

HERBS

Lavender, Lavendula x intermedia Provence

Rosemary

Mint

Thyme

Pineapple Sage, Salvia elegans

BULBS

Galanthus ‘S. Arnott’

Hyacinth, Hyacinth orientales

Daffodil, Triandrus Narcissus ‘Thalia’

Tulips, ‘Angelique‘, ‘Princess Irene

Lillium ‘Stargazer’

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 carole@herebydesign.net.

(This post was updated February 2019)

 

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