(Updated February 2019)
Years ago, I was visiting Peru in December when suddenly, a sweet perfume came floating across the warm afternoon air. For a moment I was taken aback. Then I realized the smell was none other than the scent of roses. And, rounding the corner there they were; cherry-red, velvety blooms beckoning me into their fragrant garden.
ON THE SCENT
In the plant world, fragrance directs 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 specific flowers. These can stir emotions, evoke powerful memories or 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. It can also deepen our appreciation for the individual plants in our garden.
CHOOSING A SITE
A fragrant garden can play many roles. Firstly, it can alter emotions, potentially reducing depression and/or anxiety while improving quality of life. For many people, a purposeful combination of aromatic plants can bring peace and relaxation. This is especially true when scented plants are placed by a patio or grouped by a seat where they can be quietly enjoyed.
Place scented plants along a walkway or by a bench
When sited close to the house, a fragrant garden can also provide a beautiful transition between interior and exterior spaces. The garden’s proximity to the home not only makes harvesting plants easy, it allows their aromas to lift up and carry indoors.
Plant a fragrant garden under a window for a powerful effect
Even a small-sized fragrant garden can have a big impact when planted along a walkway. As people brush against them, the scented plants release their aromas by surprise, making for a powerful experience.
Whatever location you select, make sure to choose a sunny, well-sheltered site. Enclosed spaces work best because they protect delicate blossoms while concentrating their individual scents. This heightens the overall effect of the garden.
DESIGNING A FRAGRANT GARDEN
A well-designed fragrant garden follows the tiered layout of the perennial garden. That is, it is made up of a mix of tall, medium and low-growing plants that each complement each other. When creating your garden, make sure to plan for a succession of blooms that balances fragrance along with leaf shape, texture and flower color. Above all, never fixate on just one scent. This can quickly become overpowering and detract from the overall interest of the garden.
Choose taller, scented shrubs as a backdrop to your fragrant garden, or select just one as an anchor. Site medium-sized plants forward of larger shrubs. Save low-growing sweet-scented perennials, annuals and herbs for the front of the garden.
WHAT TO PLANT
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.)
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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 email@example.com.