Super Scents from the Garden

Natural Botanical Aromatherapy

The alluring scent of old-fashioned roses

Enticed by the alluring scent of old-fashioned roses

The power of fragrant flowers extends far beyond the ability to attract pollinating insects, moths or butterflies. Floral scents like roses are one of the most popular smells for humans too. Just look to the perfume industry and notice the effort that is put into trying to reproduce the authentic fragrance of garden flowers in a liquid form. Gardeners are fortunate to be able to enjoy the real thing with just a visit to the garden. Scientists have found that the sense of smell is the most prominent of all the senses with strong links to memory recall. In planning your garden, be sure to include some scented flowers to trigger fond memories. 


The use of aromatherapy or fragrances to boost our moods has led to resurgence in scented plants. Citrus scent is a “pick me up” and lavender scent calms. As a result of a greater interest in plant scents, plant breeders have started to put perfume back into some cut flowers. The part of the brain that controls our smell is linked to the area that also controls our emotional responses, memory, and intuition. Sniffing basil in the vegetable garden has been known to sharpen the memory and increase concentration. The strong scent of lemon balm foliage (sometimes called “happy oil”) works wonders to perk up the spirit.

Fragrant white Hosta plantaginea blooms

Fragrant white Hosta plantaginea blooms

Most flowers are fragrant during the day to attract pollinating insects flying nearby. Generally, white and pale flowers are particularly strongly scented and often are open at night to attract moths and butterflies. Great examples are sweet alyssum, jasmine, and flowering tobacco. To human noses these scents are described as sweet, citrus, cloves, honey, spicy (peppery), exotic, and fruity.

Some flowers have scents that are so good they almost seem edible. Pineapple and fruity sage are excellent scented plants that have strong and very attractive fragrances. Chocolate scented cosmos smells good enough to eat, but it is not edible. But, take a sniff of chocolate mint scented geranium and it smells just like its name. It is edible but chocolate mint candies are a better choice.

While flowers often have scents, there are only a small group that have scents that are attractive to our noses, and fewer still that have copious amounts of pleasing fragrance. Finding scented plants that will liven up a garden is a real bonus.


Butterfly Bush (Buddleja)

Butterfly Bush (Buddleja)


Many people grow the shrub Buddleja (butterfly bush) for its ability to attract butterflies. This fragrance, that is so beloved by butterflies and moths, is also pleasant to human noses. The long, spiky, blue, white, yellow, or pink blooms have a sweet, honey fragrance that is stronger on a sunny afternoon. This easy–to-grow shrub just requires a little pruning in the spring and some deadheading during the summer to flourish in zone 5 or warmer.


There are many types of perennial dianthus (called cottage pinks or hardy border carnations) that have a strong clove scent when in flower. Since there is considerable variation among all the Dianthus, a little research is required to find out which ones are the stronger scented and longer blooming.

The vanilla or baby powder scent of Heliotropium (heliotrope) is a compelling reason to grow this annual. The plant also has visually pleasing flowers as well as deep green rippled foliage. The dark purple flowers of the Marine-types are very popular although the lighter colored heliotrope is more fragrant.

One of the best-scented flowers is Lathyrus odoratus, the annual sweet pea. This is often the first choice many people make when picking scented plants. Sweet peas are easy to grow and freely reward visitors with their powerful scent and attractive blooms. This old-fashioned flower blooms for a long time if plants are not subjected to excessively hot and dry weather. Many of the newer types of sweet peas have better summer weather tolerance than the older ones. The scent of sweet peas is described as a mix of honey and orange. Tall sweet peas can be grown up a chain link fence or trellis. The dwarf sweet peas rarely grow taller than 1 foot (30 cm). These are ideal for window boxes, planters or hanging baskets. Watch out for Lathyrus latifolius, the perennial (or everlasting) sweet pea that has lovely pink or purple blooms but no scent. Start sweet pea seeds early so they can enjoy the cool weather.
 
Mirabilis jalapa has the intriguing common name, marvel of Peru or four o’clocks.  The blooms open when the temperatures decrease in the late afternoon (around four o’clock) and are attractive trumpets in a variety of colors. Some are white, pale pink, magenta, yellow, or the occasional bicolour or speckling colors. They have a rich fragrance that also makes them a favorite of hummingbirds. Four o’clocks are annuals that will often reseed themselves and return year after year. This fragrant plant is quite weak stemmed so it does not make a good cut flower, but they are a pleasant addition to the landscape.  They grow to 3 feet (1 meter), so plant them in the middle of an annual garden where they will be in front of taller plants.

Winter and Spring blooming pansies

Winter and Spring blooming pansies

Pansies in the spring are a welcome sight in the spring (or during the winter in warmer areas). In addition to being visually appealing when they are in a large group, they have a light pleasant fragrance on a warm spring day. Pansies are also a flower that is edible. Several types of pansies (such as the hardy Icicle TM pansies) have been introduced that will survive the winter and be in flower as soon as the snow melts in the spring.


An old-fashioned scented plant that is not often grown is mignonette. Part of the reason for the lack of interest in mignonette, known as Reseda odorata, is the fact that the flowers are almost non-existent. It is the fragrance of this plant that makes up for its dismal flower display. The tiny greenish-white or reddish pink flowers are borne in clusters up to 12 inches (30 cm) long. As one of the finest fragrant annuals it certainly is a subdued plant and deserves to be in more gardens.

Sweet William (Dianthus)

Sweet William (Dianthus)

Dianthus barbatus (sweet William) is an old-fashioned cut flower that was very popular at the beginning of the 19th century. The bright pink, red, white, and maroon blooms last for a long time in the garden and give off a sweet spicy scent. The best time to catch the strongest fragrance is in the evening. Some sweet William plants are biennials that die after they bloom in the second year. This is fine because many self-seed in the garden. 
Hesperis matronalis (sweet rocket) is a perennial that can be used as a fragrant cut flower.  The white and pale pink flowers are sweetly scented during June flowering time.


Evening Scented Stocks (Matthiola)

Evening Scented Stocks (Matthiola)

Matthiola, called night scented stocks or evening scented stocks, has a delicious scent of honey during a warm summer evening. This is another plant that deserves to be in more gardens.

Nicotiana sylvestris (white flowering tobacco) has enjoyed the love of many generations of gardening fans. The chief reasons that many gardeners are fond of this plant are the evening fragrance and large showy white blooms. The newer shorter flowering tobacco varieties are more attractive, because they keep their blossoms open during the day, as well as in the evening, but they do not have the fragrance that Nicotiana sylvestris shares.
 
Other fragrant plants to consider in the garden are petunias, Iberis sempervirens (candytuft), Centranthus ruber ‘Coccineus’ (red valerian, Jupiter’s beard or keys of heaven), Cheirianthus allionii  (Siberian wallflower), Lobularia maritima (sweet alyssum), Brachyscome (swan river daisy), and Monarda didyma (beebalm).

Fragrant foliage plays a key role in the design of an herb garden. Scented foliage should be considered in other types of gardens too. It is worth using in a perennial or annual garden also. Fragrant foliage can be found with anise, basil, bee balm, catnip, chamomile, dill, lavender, lemon balm, lemon verbena, marjoram, mint, rosemary, sage, summer savory, and thyme. 
 
With so many plants to consider, the garden can soon become a place for serious olfactory adventures.

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