Fragrance in the Garden

Add to the aroma of your garden with these choice selections.

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Not all crabapple varieties are fragrant. If it's beauty and delicious scent you want, select one of the disease-resistant varieties that are known for their scent.

by Marie Hofer, Gardening editor, HGTV.com

A friend has a penchant for lilacs because they remind her of her mother, and she keeps accumulating new cultivars in search of just the right scent. My husband loves the pungency of marigolds — his mother used to line the sidewalk with them — and now he's extrapolated his interest into the sages. Scents seem to have a direct pipeline to our memory banks, and it even works in reverse. Show me a lady slipper, and I imagine smelling pine, an odd association formed as a kid when I discovered a pink lady slipper in the pine woods behind my house.

Gardens are highly personal creations, and as important as color, height, texture, rhythm, surprise and all the thousand other design attributes, figuring fragrance into the mix is surely just as important for some of us. Sublime scents can trigger sweet memories, add great romance and ambiance to a space. At the very least, it's a pleasant extra dimension that can continue long after the sun goes down and the garden disappears into the dark.

Viburnum x carlcephalum is one of the scented forms of viburnum. (Don't confuse with Viburnum macrocephalum, which has no fragrance.)
Carolina yellow jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens) has a slight spicy fragrance that becomes more apparent when a vigorous swath of vines is fully in bloom. Here, an arbor covered in yellow jessamine.

Annuals, Perennials, Bulbs

  • August (plantain) lily (Hosta plantaginea)
  • daffodil, some
  • evening primrose (Oenothera)
  • evening stock (Matthiola incana)
  • flowering tobacco (Nicotiana)
  • four o'clock (Mirabilis jalapa)
  • heliotrope
  • hyacinth
  • iris
  • lavender
  • lily, some
  • lily-of-the-valley
  • nasturtium, some
  • night gladiolus (Gladiolus tristus)
  • night-blooming jessamine (Cestrum nocturnum)
  • peony
  • petunia
  • pink, some (Dianthus plumarius)
  • sweet alyssum
  • sweet pea
  • sweet woodruff (Galium)
  • tulip, some

    Shrubs, Trees, Vines

  • butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii), some
  • Chinese witchhazel (Hamamelis mollis)
  • climbing hydrangea (Hydrangea anomala petiolaris)
  • crabapple, some
  • fothergilla (Fothergilla)
  • gardenia
  • leatherleaf mahonia (Mahonia bealei)
  • lilac (Syringa)
  • rose, many
  • star jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides)
  • summersweet (Clethra alnifolia)
  • sweetautumn clematis (Clematis terniflora)
  • sweetbox (Sarcococca hookerana)
  • sweet mockorange (Philadelphus coronarius)
  • tea olive (Osmanthus fragrans)
  • viburnum (V. x burkwoodii, V. x. carlcephalum; V. carlesii; V. farreri)
  • winter daphne (Daphne odora)
  • winter honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima)
  • wintersweet (Chimonanthus praecox)
  • wisteria, some

    Flowering crabapples

    It's hard to find a pink-flowering dogwood that shows good fragrance as well as excellent disease resistance in all categories. These white-flowering varieties have exhibited good to excellent disease resistance and are fragrant. They vary in shape.

    'Sugar Tyme', spreading
    'David', upright-spreading
    'Donald Wyman', upright-spreading
    'Christmas Holly', rounded
    'Evereste', rounded
    'Winter Gem', upright
    'Molton Lava', spreading

    Flowers that have fragrance have it for a reason — mostly to attract pollinators. (Plants with scented foliage like mint and some herbs are able to repel insects.) Flowering tobacco (Nicotiana) sends out its heavy fragrance in the evening when the moths it needs for pollination are out and about; by day, there's virtually no smell. Other night-fragrant plants include fragrant columbine (Aquilegia fragrans), night-scented stock, moonflower vine, honeysuckle, August lily (Hosta plantaginea), evening primrose, night gladiolus, sweetautumn clematis and climbing hydrangea.

    Some closely related plants have no fragrance, while others within the same species are highly fragrant. Some flowers have to be sniffed up close; others can perfume an entire backyard. An individual blossom may carry only a trace, but if a lot of flowers are packed into a small area, the fragrance is quite noticeable even at a distance. Scents — both the intensity and the type — can vary with heat and humidity and time of day. And finally, what smells good to one person may be unpleasant to another.

    Some points to consider:

    Sniff before you buy, if possible. There can be a tremendous variation in fragrance in a given species.

    Place fragrant plants in an area that can trap the scent--out of the wind, against a wall, fence, house or bank of evergreens.

    Site those plants whose foliage has to be rubbed to release fragrance near walkways.

    Some scents complement each other; others may interfere. As you develop your fragrance garden, be prepared to have to move a few plants around to perfect the combinations.

    Depending on where you live, there are lots of wonderful choices for fragrance gardens. Here are a few good places to start:

    Summersweet, also called sweet pepper bush (Clethra alnifolia). In early to midsummer candles of sweet fragrance project from this woody deciduous shrub. The flowers come in white and pink. The shrub has a second season of interest: in fall, the leaves turn a nice yellow to yellow-orange. Zones 4 to 9.

    Sweet mockorange (Philadelphus coronarius). This old-fashioned deciduous shrub has one season; in mid to late spring, its white flowers perfume the air, then it recedes into the background. Select cultivars are a big improvement over the species. 'Minnesota Snowflake' has very fragrant, double flowers; 6 to 8 feet tall. 'Miniature Snowflake' is a good choice for a small space: it has the same fragrant, double flowers, but grows to only 3 to 4 feet tall. Zones 4 to 8.

    Flowering tobacco (Nicotiana alata). A night-fragrant plant. This annual (in most places) comes in cream, pale green, red, rose, scarlet, mauve. Pick the larger varieties; compact types don't have much fragrance.

    Night-blooming jessamine (Cestrum nocturnum). The greenish-white tubular flowers aren't much to look at, but they are heavenly to smell at night. The plant reblooms in cycles throughout the summer. Cestrum nocturnum is a shrubby perennial in Zones 9 and south; farther north, treat as an annual. (Caution: night-blooming jessamine is poisonous.) Star jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides), a woody vine or groundcover, is a great selection for daytime aroma; Zones (7)8 to 10.

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