by Ken Lain, the mountain gardener
Scented flowers bring another dimension of enjoyment to the garden. Some flowers are lightly scented and need to be close to appreciate. Other plants engulf the entire yard in their perfume—think of Spring’s lilacs or its hillsides full of lilies-of-the-valley.
Plant them where you’ll be able to enjoy their fragrances most frequently: alongside paths, patios, near windows that can be opened, and in containers by doorways.
Plants smell their best early in the morning and at dusk. Plant in large clumps, for the most substantial impact. The scent of flowers will dissipate if they are planted in wide open, windy areas.
Spread fragrant plants throughout the yard so that different scents don’t compete with each other.
Some plants are most fragrant in the evening. Plant them near your dining/ entertaining areas.
Plants with fragrant leaves are even more potent when the leaves are crushed underfoot. Look for fragrant ground covers and lawn alternatives that can withstand foot traffic.
Here are the top scented plants known for their unique scents:
Carnation (Dianthus) Summer Blooming Perennial
The spicy scent of carnations is one of the most familiar flower fragrances. Make sure you purchase a variety that says explicitly it is fragrant since many have been bred for larger flowers and longer blooms but have little to no scent left.
Daphne (Daphne cneorum) Spring Blooming Perennial
Daphne is a beautiful knee-high shrub with glossy green leaves and flowers with a true perfume quality scent that is a mix of sweet florals and earthy undertones. Easily grown in shady mountain gardens, and retains its green leaves right through winter.
Four O’clock (Mirabilis) Summer Blooming Perennial
Mirabilis is Latin for “wonderful”. The flowers open in the late afternoon in response to cooling temperatures. They may stay open all day when skies are overcast, but their sweet, lemony fragrance is most intense in the evening. The seed self-sows or can be grown as annuals.
Fragrant Columbine (Aquilegia) Spring Blooming Perennial
Aquilegia fragrans is slightly different from the more common garden columbines, although they are almost as easy to grow. They have creamy white flowers that give off a lovely honeysuckle-like scent.
Garden Phlox (Phlox paniculata) Summer Blooming Perennial
On a warm summer day the floral scent of garden phlox can be almost heady. The heat so intensifies the fragrance. Watch out for modern hybrids that are bred only for show; they have hardly any scent.
Gardenia (Gardenia jasminoides) Summer Blooming Perennial
Gardenias are one of the most fragrant flowers, that some noses even find them too strong for close encounters! Several new mountain introductions can now be grown outdoors perennially, remaining evergreen through winter.
Hosta – Summer Blooming Perennial
Unlike so many Hosta varieties that are grown simply for their foliage, Hosta plantaginea, and many of its hybrids like ‘Aphrodite’ and ‘Guacamole’ have stunning white flowers with a charming floral scent.
Lavender (Lavendula) Summer Blooming Perennial
Lavender has one of the most beloved scents of all flowers. When used in cooking its musky floral fragrance even will permeate the palate.
Lily of the Valley (Convalariam) Spring Blooming Perennial
With their rich, sweet fragrance lilies of the valley flowers are a favorite addition to commercial perfumes. Enjoy the scent throughout the shady parts of the mountain landscape.
Magnolia – Spring Blooming Perennial
Magnolias have a sweet, energetic, honeysuckle scent that can quickly evoke memories of the first time you were captivated by this tree or large bush. Although all magnolia are fragrant, only some varieties are mountain hardy. Make sure to ask your garden center for help choosing just the right one for your landscape.
Peony (Paeonia) Spring Blooming Perennial
Peonies would be beautiful enough to grow just for their flowers, but the lush blooms also have a bright, clean scent that is very similar to roses. Very long-lasting as cut flowers, the plant is a low water user, distasteful to animals.
Pinks (Dianthus) Spring through Fall Blooming Perennial
Although not as strongly scented as carnations, pinks also have a spicy scent and are much more widely adaptable to mountain gardens.
Roses – Summer Blooming Perennial
Although not all roses are fragrant, they may be the first flower most people think of when it comes to fragrance. There is a lot of variety in rose scents, from candy-sweet to exotic and spicy. Watters Garden Center is famous for our mountain hardy roses with hundreds available for smelling starting the last week of April through the growing season.
Star Jasmine (Trachelospermum) Spring to Summer Blooming
This evergreen, twining tangle of vines is not pure jasmine, but it smells so much like one, it earned its common name. A well-established plant will be covered with the fragrant blooms.
Summersweet (Clethra) Summer Blooming Perennial
The spicy scent of Clethra is why some people refer to it as ‘pepper bush”. Bright green foliage beautifully offsets the white panicles of flowers. The scent comes as a pleasant surprise in late summer.
Sweet Alyssum (Lobularia) Spring through Fall Annual
This low growing plant is so covered with flowers, it looks like a white carpet on the ground or turns containers into giant snowballs. Its fragrance is a unique blend of a honey-like quality with a floral finish.
Thyme (Thymus) Summer Blooming Perennial
You may think of thyme only as a seasoning, but more often it is used as an ornamental plant in containers and beside walkways. It is also valued as a pollinator to attract bees and butterflies to the landscape. Thyme is in the mint family, but its scent is more herbal and grassy than that of traditional mints.
Until next week, I’ll be here at Watters Garden Center helping gardeners choose the most fragrant blossoms for their landscapes.