A little planning will have your garden smelling sweet year-round

Published 12:03 am Sunday, October 5, 2014

“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.”


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.

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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. Consider viburnums, sweet olive or gardenia shrubs for foundation plantings that add color and fragrance. A little used plant in this region is “Korean Spice Viburnum” (V. carlesii), which sets pink flower buds in March that open to sweetly fragrant white flowers in wide clusters through May. Blue-black berries form in summer. It’s thriving in my garden.

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.

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 elsewhere. 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 one of my favorites. Plant this tall grower in an inconspicuous part of the garden and then enjoy the Kool-Aid-like scent as it wafts through the garden in spring and fall. Bees love this plant, and it can be an important food source for them in winter. Another shrub with similar characteristics is sweet olive (Osmanthus fragrans), not much to look at but a joy to smell when its tiny white or yellow 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 Pink Perfection, Mr. Lincoln, Julia Child, most of the David Austin English Roses, and numerous antique roses.

For five tips for a scented garden and this month’s garden calendar, see page 3C of the print edition.


Karen Dardick is a member of Adams County Master Gardeners and a garden writer and author. Her Natchez garden includes many fragrant plants.