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Fragrant Plants

What's the first thing we do when we see a flower? Most of us smell it. Stop and smell the flowers in your own home garden. A plant's aroma is one of the key aspects of gardening, since the smells of flowers and herbs can trigger strong emotions.

Gardenia flowers.

Value of Aromatic Plants

Scientists recognize the power of the olfactory system. Humans can identify hundreds of odors. Many can trigger strong reactions and emotions. Using fragrant plants in the landscape is certainly not a new concept.

The botanical reason for plant fragrance is simple - it's there to attract pollinators to the blooms. White or pastel blossoms seem to have stronger scents. This trait is probably to help them compete with their more brightly-colored cousins.

Fragrance is not limited to blooms. The essential oils that provide the perfume can be found in other plant parts such as foliage, seeds and bark. Herbs are especially good examples of this.

Planting Sites for Fragrant Plants

Honeysuckle bush.

Of course you want to place fragrant plants where they can be appreciated. Remember that prevailing wind directs the aroma, so identify which way the breeze typically blows. Remember also that scent intensity differs as the day progresses and humidity levels and air temperatures change. Some planting ideas include:

  • Walkways and entryways — passers-by enjoy the aroma from blooms. Scented leaves release their aroma when you brush them as you walk by.
  • Porches, patios or decks — anywhere you have seating is a great place to enjoy fragrant plants, especially evening blooming plants like jasmine and moonflower. A solitary bench out in the garden is an excellent place to escape.
  • Movable containers — create your own portable plant aromatherapy by using containers.
  • Near open windows — any window that allows a breeze to enter the home can only be enhanced by adding a fragrant plant outdoors.
  • Trellises — bring the blooms up to nose level. Arbors (especially over garden gates) and pergolas will also bring the aroma to you.

What to Plant

Lillies.

Many of today's hybrids are bred for exceptional appearance. In the process, the traits that provide fragrance have diminished or disappeared. Some cultivars of roses are perhaps the best examples. Some varieties of a plant may not be as fragrant as others. Lilies, iris and hostas are examples.

There are still plenty of fragrant plants to choose from. Heirloom or "old-fashioned" varieties tend to be fragrant. Many plant tags will indicate whether aroma is one of the plant's traits.

There is one very important consideration when selecting fragrant plants for the landscape - the individual gardener's personal definition of fragrant. What is perfume to one person may be putrid to another. In short, it's a matter of opinion.

Even among flowers that most agree do not smell offensive, many people can be overwhelmed by the aroma. Some heavily-scented plants such as gardenia, jasmine or lilac may be overpowering to some olfactory systems. Too much of a good thing can also be a mistake, so avoid over-planting.

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Favorite Fragrant Plants

Herbs.

Herbs

Most if not all herbs are fragrant. Sage and rosemary are undeniably fragrant. Creeping thyme is used as a groundcover in stepping stone walkways simply because it smells good when you step on it. Some other herbs include basil, bay, catmint, chamomile, lavender, mint and oregano.

Perennials

Fragrant favorites include astilbe, dianthus, lily-of-the-valley, hosta, peony, phlox, Russian sage, sedum and sweet Woodruff.

Shrubs

Look for butterfly bush, gardenia, lilac, magnolia, mock orange, osmanthus, rose, winter daphne and viburnum. Remember that some shrubs such as lilac, magnolia and viburnum can reach small tree size.

Trees

Trees are generally not known for being aromatic, but some exceptions are citrus, crabapple, flowering cherry and crape myrtle.

Vines

Don't forget vines in your fragrant garden. Try bower vine, clematis, climbing rose, honeysuckle, jasmine, moonflower, sweet pea or wisteria. Remember that some vines can be quite aggressive and invasive. Make sure you choose the correct species.

Bulbs

Some great fragrant bulb varieties include daylily, hyacinth, iris and narcissus.

Annuals

Aromatic annuals include alyssum, nasturtium, pansy, petunia, poppy, primros, stock and viola.

Evergreens

A couple of notable fragrant evergreens are juniper and pine.