One common request from garden designers is to engage our senses in order to enhance the entire experience and leave a lasting impression. Bright, colorful flowers or contrasting foliage texture may delight us visually, while rustling grasses or gurgling fountains are music to our ears and fuzzy leaves beg us to touch them. Fragrance, however, is one of the senses frequently overlooked in design and plant selection, yet a plant with a pleasant perfume adds so much to the enjoyment of a garden!
Shop this month’s fragrant plants on our new Online Shop:
In 1983, a classification system was developed so retailers could suggest similar, yet alternate, fragrances to their customers. Akin to the color wheel, we now have the “fragrance wheel” to group scents into recognized categories: Floral, Spicy, Woody, and Fresh.
Floral scents are most popular to gardeners, well represented by roses and daphnes. Spicy aromas from plants are sometimes compared to vanilla or clove smell; Sweet box and Eleagnus are classic examples of spicy scents. Often, it is a plant’s foliage that has fragrance, such as Mexican Orange or some varieties of hardy geraniums. Woody smells naturally come from conifers including Cedar and Juniper; lavender and other herb fragrances are a subcategory of woody. Fresh smells include citrus and fruity aromas like those from some Iris species (some smell like grape Kool-Aid!).
For a long list of fragrant plants and excellent photographs, go to www.greatplantpicks.org.
Popular Fragrant Flowers
When we think of fragrant flowers, roses immediately come to mind. We often hear rose enthusiasts lament about the lack of scent in modern-day cultivars and regularly encounter customers searching for the most fragrant rose. Hybridizers began breeding highly disease-resistant roses in the mid-1990s, but couldn’t effectively combine strong fragrance with disease resistance, so fragrance began to disappear from new introductions, favoring hardiness over headiness. After about a decade of producing strong plants lacking fragrance, the hybridizers have improved their techniques, and we now have many new rose varieties with both high disease-resistance and fantastic fragrances!
Perhaps the ultimate queen of fragrant flowers are gardenias. Not all varieties will tolerate our wet, cold winters, but we do have several hardy cultivars that thrive in our area (although unfortunately not so much in coastal conditions). A word of caution: Gardenias are not considered low-maintenance plants—in fact, they are more like plant divas; high-maintenance and demanding, but rewarding with amazing flowers and a scent that can practically transport one to another time and place (totally worth it)! One may not want to landscape their entire garden with plant divas, however, a few select plants strategically placed throughout the garden adds a great effect to the overall aesthetic. The potent aroma from gardenias is the sweet payoff for tending to their specific needs.
Ideally, plants should receive at least 4-6 hours of sunlight, but be protected from the hottest afternoon sun to help the flowers last longest. A location that is slightly sheltered from high winds and extreme temperatures will help the plant during winter months, as will well-draining soil; occasional winter protection will especially benefit young, newly planted gardenias or those grown in containers. Whether grown in the ground or in a container, gardenia plants prefer acidic soil and consistent watering and will likely drop flower buds and/or develop yellow leaves if these conditions are not met. We suggest planting with our Acid Planting Mix and feeding regularly with a fertilizer formulated for acid-loving plants such as a Rhododendron/Azalea food. Two popular cultivars are ‘Kleim’s Hardy’ and ‘Frost Proof’; the former is a semi-dwarf selection (2-3 feet) with a single-petal style flower and the latter grows a little larger (3-4 feet) with fully double blossoms.
Another of our favorite fragrant flowers is Star Jasmine (Trachleospermum jasminoides); although it is usually grown as a climbing vine, it needs much less “support” from you than the gardenia. Star jasmine is one of only a few evergreen vines that works in our climate and has a long blooming season, often flowering from early June through late August. Best flower performance comes from full sun conditions, but the plant does quite well in part shade to full shade and is relatively drought tolerant, once established. Newly planted jasmine will benefit from some winter protection during its first few years and even mature plants can occasionally show a little damage after a hard winter, but they quickly recover with some TLC (a light, all-purpose fertilizer application in April and again in June will keep most plants looking great). Either grown as a screen for vertical accent in the garden or in containers, jasmine’s fragrance travels through windows and fills entire areas with its sweet, almost tropical aroma. The glossy, dark green leaves are enhanced by white flower clusters that are often visited by hummingbirds; an un-pruned plant may easily reach 10 feet long or more in just a few years (plants can be pruned to maintain smaller size).
Heliotrope, Sweet Alyssum, Brugmansia (Angel’s trumpet), Nicotiana alata
Agastache, Geranium cantabrigiense, G. macrorrhizum, Cupressus, Juniperus, Perovskia, Rhododendron PJM, Rosmarinus, Cercidiphyllum (Katsura)
Fragrance Calendar for the Garden
January: Azara microphylla, Sarcococca c. and hookeriana (Sweet box), Mahonia (Oregon grape)
February: Daphne odora (winter daphne), Evergreen Clematis, Mahonia, Hamamelis (Witch hazel), Pieris (Andromeda), Corylopsis (winter hazel), Chimonanthus (Wintersweet), Viburnum ‘Dawn’
March: Daphne odora, Narcissus, Evergreen Clematis, Ribes sanguinium (red flowering currant), Choisya ternata (Mexican orange)
April: Daphne odora, Clematis montana rubens var., Akebia, Hyacinth, Osmanthus X burkwoodii, Fothergilla, Star Magnolia, deciduous Azaleas, lilac, Wisteria, Viburnum carlesii
May: Lilac, Honeysuckle (Hall’s), Daphne ‘Carol Mackie’, ‘Eternal Fragrance’ ‘Summer Ice’, Philadelphus (Mock orange), Peony, Lily of the Valley, Wisteria
June: Roses, Evergreen Magnolia, Gardenia, Phlox p., Buddleia (butterfly bush), Miss Kim lilac, Star jasmine, Tillia cordata (Linden)
July: Roses, Star jasmine, Casa Blanca and Stargazer lilies (et al.), Hosta (esp. ‘Fragrant Blue’, ‘Fragrant Bouquet’ and ‘So Sweet’), Evergreen Magnolia, Gardenia, Glorybower Tree, Chocolate Cosmos
August: Abelia, Actaea, Caryopteris (bluebeard), Gardenia, Star jasmine, Citrus, Roses
September: Eleagnus, fall cyclamen, Roses
November: Camellia sasanqua ‘Setsugekka’, ‘Pink-A-Boo’, Sarcococca humulis (late month)
Follow your nose to your nearest Dennis’ 7 Dees to add fragrance to your garden with some of our favorite plants!