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Autumn is the perfect time to plan for a garden filled with fragrance

“A garden without fragrance is like a sumptuous dinner without any flavor. With a little planning, you can create a sensory experience of fragrance as well as color by including plants with enticing aromas.”


Fall is an excellent time to evaluate your garden and decide what you want to change. Top on my list is fragrant plants.

Fragrance in flowers comes in many different aromas — spice, citrus, honey, vanilla, grape and apple are just a few of the many scents that flowers can emit. If everything in your garden emits fragrances at the same time, the result can be a cloying, overwhelmingly unpleasant experience. A little planning will lead to a great deal of enjoyment in just a few months if you take into account the bloom period of each plant you select.

Plants give off fragrances to attract their pollinators, and you’ll often notice that some of the most fragrant flowers are white (although there are exceptions), because they lack color to attract the insects that spread their pollen.

First, pick your foundation plants, the ones that form the bones of the garden. Depending on your location, consider gardenias, viburnums, sweet olive or mock orange shrubs for foundation plantings that add color and fragrance.

“Frostproof Gardenia” is a Mississippi Medallion Plant that grows well in our climate. “Korean Spice Viburnum” (V. carlesii), sets pink flower buds in March that open to sweetly fragrant white flowers in wide clusters through May. Blue-black berries form in summer. Mexican orange, sometimes called mock orange, (Choisya ternata) and orange jessamine (Murraya paniculata) are also good choices.

Vining attractions

Of course, jasmine is a popular fragrance plant, and can be included as a shrub or vine. Jasminum polyanthum is a vigorous vine, growing to 20-feet that can quickly cover a structure. Fragrant clusters of white flowers appear February through July. Annual pruning is recommended to keep it in bounds. A less-demanding variety is angelwing jasmine (J. nitidum). Also an evergreen vine, it is moderate in growth, from 10 to 20 feet, and can be kept in a container. Very fragrant white flowers with purple casts are produced in late spring and summer. Italian jasmine (J. humile) can be grown as a vine or shrub, if clipped. Clusters of fragrant, bright yellow flowers appear July through September.

Another tall, fragrant shrub is Pittosporum tobira, a dense shrub or small tree with very glossy deep green foliage and fragrant white flowers that smell like citrus when they appear in spring. They’ll set fruit pods, which split open in summer to reveal showy orange seed pods.

Sweet summer scents

Summer fragrance will be produced by Buddleia davidii, called butterfly bush because its nectar lures butterflies to the panicles of flowers. Hybrid varieties flower in shades of pink, purple, dark blue and rose red.

Heliotrope is a smaller, more manageable shrub that is a perennial in warm climates and an annual here. The vanilla scent also attracts butterflies as well as bees. If you can find “Alba,” include this in your garden. Free flowering, easy to care for, it will reward you with almost non-stop blooms. Heliotrope has a tendency to flop and can be easily controlled by light pruning.

Secret fragrance

Several shrubs don’t offer much in the way of appearance, but deserve a spot in the garden because of their fragrance. Aloysia virgata is a favorite of landscape architect Shirley Kerins, formerly head of plant sales at The Huntington Botanical Gardens in California. She recommends planting this tall grower in an inconspicuous part of the garden and then enjoying the scent (she describes like Kool-Aid) as it wafts through the garden in spring and fall.

I have two in my Natchez garden, and they are thriving.

Another shrub with similar characteristics is sweet olive (Osmanthus fragrans), not much to look at but a joy to smell when its tiny white flowers produce powerful, sweet apricot-like fragrance in spring and summer.

Many irises also produce lovely perfumes, often resembling grapes.

Look for repeat-blooming varieties that will flower intermittently spring through fall.

Many people regard roses as synonymous with fragrant plants. Not all are fragrant, but some modern and antique roses produce lovely scents. Consider Memorial Day, Mr. Lincoln, Julia Child, many of the David Austin English Roses, Sweet Fragrance and Honey Perfume.

For this month’s gardening calendar, see page 3C.


Karen Dardick is an Adams County Master Gardener.