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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
Fragrant favorites include astilbe, dianthus, lily-of-the-valley, hosta, peony, phlox, Russian sage, sedum and sweet Woodruff.
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 are generally not known for being aromatic, but some exceptions are citrus, crabapple, flowering cherry and crape myrtle.
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.
Some great fragrant bulb varieties include daylily, hyacinth, iris and narcissus.
Aromatic annuals include alyssum, nasturtium, pansy, petunia, poppy, primros, stock and viola.
A couple of notable fragrant evergreens are juniper and pine.