Yesterday I talked to a low vision club about fragrance in the garden. I wasn’t until I was preparing for this talk that I realized how important fragrance was to me. I find that when I walk through my garden and come upon a scent that I can’t identify, I will stop and spend time finding out which plant it is. It means I take time to live in the moment and it’s relaxing.
Every garden should have some kind of fragrance. Fragrance brings a garden to life. Unfortunately many plants we have thought of as fragrant have had it bred out of them. If you see beautiful roses often they have no scent but will be virtually disease free. It seems like we are trading one thing for another.
So why add fragrance to the garden? The sense of smell is so strong. Most of us remember scents from the past. The perfume our mothers wore or bread being baked. Certain smells trigger fond memories for many people. The scents of a garden also relax us. A walk under a large rose arbor underplanted with alyssum has us wanting to sit and stay awhile. It makes us slow down and enjoy the moment, something many of us don’t know how to do.
Where would you add fragrance? I would suggest adding fragrance near the path to your front door, on the patio to enjoy while sitting outside and anywhere someone would walk in the garden. You can create pockets of fragrant flowers, shrubs or trees anywhere people will enjoy them. It may be a simple container of Daphne on the patio or wall flowers in a window box.
Everyone likes different smells. Some people don’t like the overpowering scent of Hyacinths but many love it. I like scents that surprise me like those of night-blooming flowers such as Nicotiana.
What types of plants could be used to bring fragrance in the garden? Lets look at trees to begin with. How about adding a small tree like Styrax japonica with its fragrant white bell-like flowers that bloom in June or the scented leaves of lemon trees. Many trees have scented leaves or bark. Often you have to rub the leaves to smell them.
I have a favourite winter blooming shrub called Viburnum bodnantense which blooms from November to February with tiny pink scented flowers. Its one of my favourite plants in the garden at a time when not much else is in bloom. It’s possible to have fragrant plants in the garden year round here on the west coast.
Flowers that are fragrant help attract pollinators to the garden. The fragrance of flowers is produced in glands at the base of petals. Flowers that are pink and white tend to be the most fragrant. Imagine old-fashioned roses as you walk by them or sweet peas winding up a trellis.
What if you don’t have a garden? Use houseplants to bring fragrance into the home. You could have a scented geranium, jasmine, citrus, gardenia, orchids, paperwhites, Hoya or eucalyptus. I would use miniature roses and then plant them outside.
So your choices are many when it comes to adding fragrant plants to the home or garden. Lets take a look at some fragrant plants for spring. Plants such as hyacinths, lilac, wisteria, stocks , choiysa or wall flowers are excellent choices for the spring garden. Having a lilac tree in the garden is wonderful. You can pick the flowers and bring them in the home to enjoy.
For summer fragrance you can grow roses, lemon verbena, lavender, lilies, honeysuckle, alyssum, heliotrope, sweet peas, mock orange, mint, Nicotiana or lemon gem marigolds,
How about herbs to add scent, both spicy and sweet, to your garden? Herbs are wonderful to use in the fragrant garden. I harvest lavender each year and place it an area where I can reach in and smell it. Right now its in a bag in my seed storage box and each time I go there I remember to enjoy the lavender. Lavender makes a wonderful addition to the fragrant garden. Grow plants such as mint and lemon balm so you can touch the leaves and have them release their fruity scent. Both these plants should be in containers to keep them from spreading. Grow herbs such as sage and rosemary for their scent and for culinary use. Both are great plants to have for the bees.
Most perennials continue to bloom late into fall. Petunias are often fragrant and last until frost sets them back. Annuals such as scented geraniums are wonderful for planters on the patio. So when you shop for annual flowers, smell them to see if they are fragrant before buying them. Add some winter fragrance to the garden with the addition of witch hazel, viburnum and sweet box. There is so much choice when it comes to fragrant plants. Why use plants without it?