Fragrance has a powerful impact on all of us and holds a stronger connection to memory than
any of the other senses, even sight. But though fragrant plants can elicit the loudest “oohs”
and “aahs” from garden lovers, scent is often an afterthought when designing beds, borders, and
containers. But it can (and should) be one of the key factors in selecting plants and placing
them in the perfect locations.
There is no shortage of options, whether your garden is sunny or shady, large or small, city
or country, formal or wild. Many scented plants are so versatile that they can adapt to suit
your personal or landscape style – it’s all in how you use them. Lavender, for example, is
equally at home in a straight row along a path, dotted through a cottage garden, or as one
plant in a pot. While most fragrant plants do like the sun, if you have a woodland garden, look
for the hostas with the sweetest scents, and native plants like blue phlox and spicebush.
You’re covered as far as seasons, too. While spring and summer have the greatest abundance
of scented plants, from spring’s daffodils, hyacinths, and stock to summer’s lilies, dianthus,
and four o’clocks, fall and winter have their intoxicating contributions, including sweet
autumn clematis, witch hazel, Chinese holly, and winter daphne.
Every category of plants – annuals, perennials, vines, trees, shrubs, bulbs – offers
choices. Need something to cover a fence? Try sweet peas or moonflower. Want a shrub to anchor
a bed? Put in a wintersweet, lilac, or clove currant. Of course, roses have always had a
prominent place on any top 10 list of scented blossoms, from shrub forms to climbers. A few of
the most scented are ‘Double Delight’, ‘Honey Perfume’, ‘Gertrude Jekyll’, and ‘Fourth of
July’. If you have a really big space that can handle a tree, southern magnolia, linden, and
catalpa take scent to new heights.
Not all scented plants rely on flowers to tickle your fancy (and your nose). Many, including
herbs like rosemary, basil, and thyme, are noted for their fragrant foliage, as are bee balm,
scented geraniums, salvias, sweet woodruff, and hummingbird mint. While these scents might not
waft distances on the breeze as with flowers, running your hand over the plants will leave the
fragrance hanging deliciously in the air.
When you’re considering which fragrant plants to include in your garden, first think about
which ones are your true favorites. Maybe you’ve enjoyed heliotrope in a good friend’s yard, or
your grandmother was noted for her sweet petunias, or you have a fond memory of lavender fields
from a trip to France. If those plants are in your garden (as long as your site and hardiness
zone are suitable), you’ll recall those memories every time you breathe in the scent. And
fragrance is a very personal matter, as any perfume maker will attest. Not everyone is drawn to
the same scents. Lemon, pine, clove, mint – some will pull your heartstrings more than others.
There are people who adore the fragrance of paper-white narcissus, while others run from
When placing scented plants in your landscape, the most important factor to keep in mind is
maximizing your enjoyment of the fragrance. Put them where you can smell them! Whether it’s
outside a window where you often read, near a porch or patio that’s a gathering place for
friends and family, by a gate you pass through often, along a path where you can allow your
fingers to trail through fragrant leaves. And don’t forget – a lot of fragrant plants make
excellent cut flowers for bouquets, so you can bring the pleasure of scent indoors.