Most gardens are primarily designed to be visually striking. They can, however, be designed to please all the senses. A fountain or waterfall can add the soothing sound of running water. The texture of plants can be felt. The taste of an herb or fruit is amazing when picked from your own garden. Fragrance, the sense which evokes memory better than any other, is easy to incorporate into your garden design.
Over the years hybridization has left many plants, which were once quite fragrant, less so. Hybrid flowers have been bred for larger and more colorful blooms and disease resistance at the expense of fragrance. However, there are still plenty of plants which are great for planning a fragrant garden.
Trees and shrubs play an important role in the fragrant garden. Some of the best include mock orange (Philadelphus coronaries), Koreanspice viburnum (Viburnum carlesii) and the early blooming shrubs Daphne (Daphne mezereum) and lilac (Lilac sp.). Scent varies within each species. The aforementioned Koreanspice viburnum has a wonderful scent while other viburnums have no scent at all or may even smell offensive.
Where to Plant
Plant fragrant shrubs or trees near gathering spaces, such as patios or garden benches. You’ll detect scents better when you sit still long enough to let them surround you. Include pots of fragrant plants on decks, porches, and patios. Define the edges of a patio with a low border of lavender or rosemary. Pant them around a bench or use them as an edging plant along a garden path where you’re likely to brush against them.
Entrance gardens and garden paths are enhanced when their design incorporates fragrant plants. Lilacs, fragrant roses, some viburnums, hyacinths, Daphne, jasmines, and sweet autumn clematis are all wonderful additions to the entrance garden. Walkways can be lined with aromatic herbs, such as silver mound artemesia (wormwood) and sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum). Some of the most popular spring bulbs are quite fragrant, including hyacinth and narcissus, as is the early blooming perennial, lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis).
Planted outside a window, Koreanspice viburnum, mock orange and Daphne, can be enjoyed indoors as their scent drifts inside. Window boxes and planters are an effective way to add fragrance to in an indoor room, patio or deck.
Another way to add fragrance to a garden is to train vines on a trellis or arbor. American wisteria (Wisteria frutescens), a native, non-invasive vine and the autumn-blooming clematis (Clematis virginiana) are great flowering vines which do just that.
Smaller plants, such as the lily-of-the-valley, should be planted in groups. Though quite fragrant, a single plant won’t have much effect on a large garden space.
Groundcover herbs, such as thyme, become more fragrant when planted where they’re likely to be stepped on. As their leaves are crushed their scent is released.
Some native shrubs are wonderful in the fragrant garden (any garden really). One such shrub, sweet pepperbush or summersweet (Clethra alnifolia), produces white or pink fragrant flowers late in the summer.
My favorite fragrant plant is perhaps the vanilla- scented heliotrope as it reminds of working at a greenhouse on Martha’s Vineyard.