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Fragrant Flowers
February 1 2009
In our everyday life, the average human draws 23,000 breaths a day. Included in every breath are the scents of our immediate surroundings, relaying a myriad of information. It is in this spirit that we plant our gardens with fragrant plants.

We do not want to rely on just one plant to provide aroma in our garden. We strive to provide a palette of scent; a “buffet” for the nose to consume. In that same spirit, we should not lean solely on the flowers for the fragrance in our garden. The pungence of artemesia or the tang of lemon thyme can be perfect counterpoints for the spicy odor of flowers. Boxwood can not only define the border of the garden; it can be the canvas for a complex painting of aromas.

Finally, the garden should not lack fragrance at any time of year. Even our garden chores can provide us with memory provoking scents. In the fall, the scent of burning leaves accompanies our annual clean up, and the smell of apples and pumpkins remind us of Thanksgivings past. In the winter, the smell of cut evergreens defines the Christmas holiday as surely as snow or Santa, and as the season progresses, forced paperwhites or hyacinths can herald the approach of spring.

Flower fragrance is food for the soul
As much as aroma is food for the nose, it is also food for the soul. Nothing is as sure to bring a smile to any face as a whiff of the first bloom on a fragrant viburnum or daphne in spring. It is the confirmation of the promise of spring, a sure link to the goodness of the earth, and a vacation, if ever so fleeting, for the senses. There is a luxury in the perfumes of the garden, a luxury that remains enticingly in reach of almost everyone. So please indulge yourself and plant some of the flowers and shrubs listed here. You will thank yourself nearly 23,000 times a day.

Planning your flower garden
Let’s look at some of the logistics of planting our fragrant garden. First of all, we want to be able to enjoy our scented plants as much as possible. This necessitates our placing the garden close to the house. There are several different reasons for this.

One - Close placement to the house allows us to enjoy the fragrant aroma from inside the house as well as in the garden.
Secondly - The reflected heat from a wall or patio can intensify the odors from many plants, giving us more bang for our buck.
Finally - If the fragrant plants are set out in the open yard, the wind can whisk away the scent we worked so hard to produce. Providing an enclosed space, such as a courtyard will allow the fragrance to collect and intensify; even a leeward wall will provide us with more flower power for the nose.
Next, we need to consider the reason the plants have scent in the first place. Much as people use colognes and perfume to attract the opposite sex, plants use fragrance as a part of their sexual function, attracting insects to distribute their pollen. Keeping this in mind, one has to consider that the more fragrant the plant, the more insects it is likely to attract. If someone in your household is allergic to insect bites, you will have to site the garden in a location that allows that person to avoid it. If this means locating the garden away from the house, you can create your enclosure by using some of the scented shrubs and trees to create a barrier from the wind. You definitely have to count on increased bee and bug activity around your scented plants. People asking for a fragrant plant that doesn’t attract bees are confused about what the plant is trying to accomplish!

Seasonal considerations
Finally, we need to consider when we would like the fragrance in the yard. If we are landscaping a summer home, it doesn’t matter if we have managed to locate the rare Clematis montana’Odorata’. By the time the kids are out of school, and we get to the summer house, our prized clematis will be out of bloom! On a similar note, if we only plant summer blooming flowers around our year-round residence, we will deprive ourselves of seasons of scent we could otherwise be enjoying. With just a little thought and preparation, we can provide fragrance in the garden from the last frost of spring to the first frost on the pumpkin (and with just a little more effort we can even find some aroma in the colder months).

Fragrant Flower List
This is not intended as an all inclusive list, just a good place to start to find scented plants. I tried to keep it general and not include things like creosote bush that only you Arizonians could grow, but I’m a northern gardener and as my old granny used to say, “You taste like the sauce you were boiled in.” Any other plants you feel merit inclusion should, as always, be brought to our attention. Please make sure it’s not your local version of a creosote bush, and can be used by a wide range of gardeners, and we’ll consider it…


Aesculus hippocastanum/ Horse Chestnut

Magnolia spp.

Tilia spp/ Lindens
Calycanthus floridus/ Sweet Shrub

Chaenomeles speciosa/ Flowering Quince

Daphne cneorum/ Spring Daphne (‘Carol Mackie’ with the variegated leaves is

Ligustrum spp. / Hedge

Philadelphus spp. / Mock-orange

Pieris spp. / Andromeda

Syringa spp. / Lilacs

Viburnum spp. / Fragrant Viburnums (V.carlessii, V. juddii, V.
carlecephalum, etc.)
Wisteria spp.
Convalaria majalis/ Lily of the Valley

Dianthus spp. / Pinks, Carnations

Primula spp. / Primroses
Annuals & Bulbs
Crocus chrysanthus/ Yellow crocus

Freesia spp.

Galanthus spp. / Snowdrops (Not all; look for ‘Sam Arnott’ and ‘G.P. Arnott ’)

Hyacinthinoides spp. / Dutch Hyacinths

Iris reticulata/ Dwarf Iris

Lobularia maritima/ Sweet Alyssum

Narcissus spp. / Jonquils, Paperwhites


Catalpa speciosa/ Catalpa

Oxydendrum arboretum/ Sourwood

Styrax obassia/ Fragrant Snowball

Syringa reticulata/ Japanese Tree Lilac
Azalea vaseyii, Azalea viscosum/ Swamp azalea, Pinxterbloom

Buddleia spp. / Butterfly Bush, Summer Lilac

Clethra spp. / Summersweet

Kolkwitzia ambilis/ Beautybush

Itea virginica/ Virginia Sweetspire (Look for ‘Henry’s Garnet’ and ‘Little Henry’)

Osmanthus spp. / False Holly

Rhus aromatica/ Fragrant Sumac

Rosa spp. / Roses (Not all, but most…)

Yucca filimentosa/ Adams Needle
Akebia quinata/ 5-leaved akebia (This plant is on many invasive lists)

Clematis spp. (Many of the vines, and check out C. heraclifolium/ Bush Clematis)

Jasminum officinale/ Jasmine

Lonicera spp.(Good fragrance but often rampant and some are just thugs, like L.japonica)

Agastache spp. / Hyssop

Hosta plantaginea (and many of it’s hybrids like ‘Aphrodite’ and ‘Guacamole’)

Lavendula spp. / Lavender (Always a favorite)

Monarda spp. / Bergamot, Bee-balm

Nepeta spp. / Catmint

Phlox paniculata/ Garden Phlox
Annuals & Bulbs
Antirhinnum majus/ Snapdragons

Datura spp. / Angels Trumpets

Cosmos atrosanguinea/ Chocolate Cosmos

Lathyrus spp. / Sweet Pea

Lilium spp. /Lilies (The Oriental Hybrids like ‘Stargazer’ and ‘Mona Lisa’ will floor you)

Nicotiana spp. / Flowering Tobacco (see, it is good for something…)

Tagetes spp. / Marigolds


Heptacodium miconoides/ Seven-son Flower (I use the Latin name as a self sobriety test)
Hamamelis virginiana/ Autumn Witch-Hazel
Clematis paniculata/ Sweet Autumn Clematis
Perovskia atriplicifolia/ Russian Sage


Hamamelis mollis, H. vernalis/ Witch-Hazels

Corylopsis spp. / Winterhazel

Evergreen spp. (Pine, fir, spruce, juniper, cedar, etc…)
Buxus spp. / Boxwood
Comptonia peregrina/ Sweet fern
Ledum groenlandicum/ Labrador Tea
Lindera benzoin/ Spicebush
Myrica pennsylvanica/ Bayberry
Artemisia spp. / Wormwood
Dennstaedtia punctiloba/ Hay-scented Fern
Galium odoratum/ Sweet Woodruff (at your own risk, invasive)
Thymus spp. / Thyme (Most of the herbs work here; tarragon and lovage and savory)
Cymbopogon citratus/ Lemon Grass
Melissa officinalis/ Lemon Balm
Ocimum basilicum/ Basil
Pelargonium spp. / Scented Geraniums
Verbena citriodorus/ Lemon Verbena
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