Wave a peppermint stick under
someone's nose and they'll likely say, "Smells like Christmas!" Or pop open a
can of cherry soda and right away, they'll remember the cooler in the back of the bowling
alley on a hot summer day. That's the power of your olfactory sense, where the nose
experiences a fragrance and the brain processes instant memories in reaction.
In the garden, fragrances can be used to recall times past, as
when you plant the same musky rose that grew at your elementary school. Each time your
children inhale its perfume, you've planted a memory to share with them. Sweet smelling
plants can have practical value, as well. Just ask anyone who's ever enjoyed the smell of
autumn clematis or japanese honeysuckle growing wild next to an apartment building
When planning a garden to include fragrances, be bold. Just as
your soap, body powder, and other toiletries seem to come together to smell "like
you", a collection of plants will not overpower each other. Different plants have
more intense scents at different times of day (and night), as well as at different times
of the year. Seldom will they even smell at the same time, much less conflict with each
other, no matter how many you plant in the same area.
You expect mint to smell like spearmint gum, but who would
imagine there would be a plant called banana shrub, that does, indeed smell like
Chiquita's best? Scented plants amuse their gardeners, but that's not their mission. All
fragrant plants exist to attract appropriate pollinators to insure their survival. Those
few that bloom in winter, like witch hazel and sasanqua, do so for the benefit of the few
bees busy then.
One gardener's favorite scent is another's repulsion. Check with
your spouse before planting any strongly odiferous shrub outside the bedroom window. But
do take advantage of prevailing breezes and allow a mutual favorite to waft in. If you
both like them, the heady scent of lilacs can be quite inspiring.
Be aware of the difference in fragrances when you take flowers
from the garden into the house. Ventilation and warm air can hasten their aging, and it's
often the smell that goes first. Not everyone can be in the same room with hyacinths after
the first few days. The flowers, like stock, change their scent long before the flowers
fade. Make sure your friend appreciates strong perfume before you gift her with a pot of
forced Dutch bulbs.
The nose knows; pick your favorite scents and plant the garden
with all of them. As our appreciation of the power of fragrance grows, so do the resources
for finding well-adapted plants to grow in every area. For more lists of fragrant plants,
consult plant encyclopedias and check at your Growise Center for local choices.
Annuals: stock and carnation in clove scents; marigolds and
calendula for spicy, nose-wrinkling aroma; petunias, pinks, and sweet peas with subtle,
Perennials: garden phlox and true lavender for old-fashioned
powder smell; gingers and hostas for tropical perfume; dianthus, sweet william, and
buddleias for clove scents;
Herbs: rosemary to clear the sinuses, thyme to whet your
appetite, chamomile for clean, fresh scent, chives whose leaves smell strong and flowers
Bulbs: daffodil is musky, hyacinth deeply so, narcissus crisp but
very sweet, and freesia a clean scent;
Vines: carolina jasmine is delicate but longlasting, wisteria has
a heady aroma, moonvine almost sickly sweet, white lady banks rose for classic scent;
Shrubs: fragrant daphne, fruity sweetshrub, strong-scented
viburnum, lilac unmistakable, Exbury azaleas spicy yet subtle, winter honeysuckle sweet at
a distance, fresh yet biting mock orange;
Trees: citrusy mimosa, black locust with fragrance like
sweetpeas, sweet bay magnolia like lemons, sweet olive's dark perfume, flowering plum,
apple, and crabapple trees that smell like their fruit, littleleaf linden so spicy, royal
paulownia almost like vanilla;
Plant fragrant pants where you can appreciate them, like a lemon
tree in a container that stays on the deck in summer and indoors all winter. Put your
favorites and those that are lightly scented like lemon thyme and lantana up close, but
save the dramatic aromas of gardenias, glory bower, and ligustrum for a safe distance from
places you like to sit. Line a path with fragrant alyssum, or a fence with golden
In the garden, fragrance draws or repels creatures of all sizes.
Night pollinating moths are drawn to a moonvine's aroma as surely as you are to your
favorite rose. If, that is, you like the fragrance of roses; after all, every scent is in
the nose of the beholder.