Fragrance Adds Another Dimension to the Garden

A garden in bloom can be a delight for the eyes. But crafted carefully -- with attention to placement and plant selection -- it can also be a feast for the nose, say gardening experts.

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Lily American Bandstand hybrid at Denver Botanic Garden. (SHNS photo by Sammy Dallal / Daily Camera)

The yummy aromas of homemade chocolate brownies, fresh root beer or warm honey.

Yucca filamentosa at Denver Botanic Garden. (SHNS photo by Sammy Dallal / Daily Camera)
Rosa Darlow's Enigma at Denver Botanic Garden. (SHNS photo by Sammy Dallal / Daily Camera)
Phlomis russeliana at Denver Botanic Garden. (SHNS photo by Sammy Dallal / Daily Camera)

The calming scents of lavender or Russian sage.

The warm, childhood memories brought back by a whiff of lilac or honeysuckle.

Yes, a garden in bloom can be a delight for the eyes. But crafted carefully -- with attention to placement and plant selection -- it can also be a feast for the nose, say gardening experts.

"Scent is so interesting. It triggers so many memories for people," says Carol O'Meara, horticulture assistant with the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension's Boulder County office.

O'Meara says paying attention to fragrance when planning what to plant can not only create different moods around the garden and on the porch, it can also fend off deer, which choose most of their browse material based on scent (and get scared off when there is too much). It can also create a good stock of dried flowers to hang inside.

"It helps freshen the air in summer, and in the winter you can dry it down and keep it for a reminder of summer," O'Meara says.

Because some plants release their fragrance in the morning and others at night, it's best to figure out where you spend most of your time and when, then choose your plants accordingly, experts say.

For instance, if you spend your evenings on the porch, consider a pot of angel trumpets, exotic shrubs which release enormous, trumpet-shaped flowers and release a sweet, lemon-like scent at night. There's also night-scented stock, another fragrant evening bloomer great for window boxes or patio tubs.

If you hang out in the garden in the morning, consider some chocolate flower, a new 2004 Plant Select variety that smells distinctly like baking brownies.

Or if you're after something that smells good all day, consider alyssum, an easy-to grow perennial that lets off a sweet honey smell when the sun hits it. Or plant some thyme, which emit their scent when stepped on, between the paving stones in the yard.

O'Meara warns not to limit yourself to annuals and perennials. There are plenty of shrubs and trees with scrumptious aromas (Linden trees, Carol Mackie Daphne shrubs and lilac bushes to name a few).

Take care not to plant strong, conflicting scents that release their fragrance at the same time. Instead, mix it up, with some sweet blooms that inspire when you bury your nose in them, others which leave a subtle scent on you as you brush by them.

"I like being surprised when I walk through a garden," she says. "If I am overwhelmed with scent, it may give me a headache."

Rob Proctor, artistic director for the Denver Botanic Gardens, says Colorado's dry climate makes it less habitable for some of the richly sweet plants, such as lilies and tuber roses, that thrive in other areas of the country. "But there are a lot of plants that you wouldn't necessarily consider sweetly fragrant that have a great aroma to them," he says.

At the Botanic Gardens' fragrance garden, violet clusters of lavender are intermixed with the vibrant, silvery-green artemisia shrubs, creating a combination of scents that, if you close your eyes, make you feel like you're sitting in a spa.

Small patches of thyme and oregano -- with their rich green textured leaves and pungent culinary smell -- are intermixed with heliotrope, a fragrant plant with small violet blooms that butterflies love. There's catmint and bee balm, which both emit enlivening tea-like aromas when you brush up against them, and sunset hyssop, an easy-to-grow native flower with deep orange blooms and a strong root beer scent. The lilac bushes have bloomed already, but the honeysuckle's sweet white blossoms are out in all their glory for the visiting hummingbirds.

And then there are, of course, the roses.

"For a long time, breeders were worried about size of bloom and the fragrance was lost, but they started to bring it back about 10 years ago," says O'Meara. "They have some now that you just want to rub all over yourself."

For those late gardeners who may have missed their opportunity to get much in the ground outside, or those who want to bring yummy smells into their home year-round, there is another option, says Proctor.

Buy some dwarf citrus trees -- lemon, lime, or orange -- put them in a pot, and place them near a window inside.

"Those bloom periodically throughout the year, and the fragrance is just rapturous," he says.

(Contact Lisa Marshall of the Daily Camera in Boulder, Co., at www.dailycamera.com.)

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