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.
Due to the genetic manipulation that has gone into their creation, many modern flowers no longer are fragrant. The plants have been bred to be full and bushy, disease resistant, or perpetually blooming, and these virtues often come at the sacrifice of scent. Heirloom flowers are usually the best bet for a scented garden. If you’d like to include some fragrance in your garden, here are tips for getting the most from your scented flowers.
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.
The fragrance of flowers changes throughout the day, and with variations in the weather and growing conditions. You’ll need to experiment with fragrant plants to see which produces best for you and which combinations appeal to your sense of style. Your gardens should be personal.
Here are the top 42 scented plants known for their unique scents. They are listed by general seasons but may bloom earlier or later in individual gardens.
#1 Angel’s trumpet (Brugmansia spp.) Summer Blooming Annual
Brugmansia is a large, tree-like plant with 8-inch blooms that dangle upside down and give off a citrus-floral scent that is most pronounced in the evening. Bring indoors, to over-winter in mountain areas.
Cor (Agastache) Summer Blooming Perennial
Both the leaves and small, spiky purple flowers of hyssop have a strong scent of anise. It is a member of the mint family, both the leaves and flowers are edible. . . Yum.
#3 Butterfly Ginger (Hedychium) Summer & Fall Blooming perennial
Clear white flowers need the longest days of summer to open and release their sweet honeysuckle fragrance. You may see this plant listed as White Ginger Lily.
#4 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.
#5 Chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile) Summer Blooming Perennial
Chamomile has a delightful grassy herbal scent that is similar to the fragrance that wafts up from hot chamomile tea. It often is used in aromatherapy for its calming effect when inhaled.
#6 Corsican mint (Mentha requienii) Summer Blooming Perennial
There is a definite minty scent from both the leaves and flowers of Corsican mint. Often used as a ground cover to emit its fragrance when crushed underfoot. It is also the flavoring used in Crème de Menthe liqueur.
#7 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.
#8 Flowering Quince (Chaenomeles) Spring Blooming Perennial
Stunning red to orange blossoms emit a fruity and sweet fragrance. Bees and hummingbirds love the flowers. Javalina-, deer-, and rabbit-proof in mountain landscapes.
#9 Flowering Tobacco (Nicotiana) Summer Blooming Annual
Nicotiana is sometimes referred to as jasmine tobacco, because of its intense, sweet scent. Go for the tall Nicotiana sylvestris for a fragrance that permeates the area at sunset. Many of the shorter, modern Nicotiana alata have only a faint scent. Nicotiana is grown as an annual at higher elevations.
#10 Four O’clock (Mirabilis) Summer Blooming Perennial
Mirabilis is Latin for “wonderful”. The flowers open in 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.
#11 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.
#12 Freesia – Spring through Summer Blooming Annual
Freesia is a favorite wedding flower. It’s a tropical, so you don’t often see it in gardens, but it can be grown as a houseplant. The tubular flowers have a fresh, fruity, floral scent.
#14 Garden Phlox (Phlox paniculata) Summer Blooming Perennial
Ton 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.
#15 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.
#16 Grape Hyacinth (Muscari armeniacu) Spring Blooming Perennial
Muscari gets its common name from its enticing grape fragrance. If you have a large clump, you can smell them throughout the yard. These tiny flowers also make nice cut flowers, bringing their bright scent indoors.
#17 Heliotrope (Heliotropium) Spring Blooming Perennial
Heliotrope has a delightful cherry vanilla scent that gives it its colloquial name of “the cherry pie flower.” You’ll need a good size clump of plants, to really get the full effect, but it’s worth every scent.
#18 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.
#19 Jasmine (Jasminum officinale) Spring through Fall Perennial
One jasmine plant can perfume your entire yard. The beautiful evergreen foliage and star-shaped flowers are merely bonuses to its spicy, sweet scent.
#20 Jonquils (Narcissus jonquilla) Spring Blooming Perennial
Many daffodils have a subtle scent, but for a bigger bang, try a patch of jonquils. They have a strong, undeniably astringent scent.
#21 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.
#22 Lilac (Syringa vulgaris) Spring Blooming Perennial
The sweet, floral fragrance of lilacs announces spring. You can get a hint of it as the buds start to swell, but once the flowers open, lilacs can perfume the entire neighborhood! New dwarf varieties bloom for months of lilac enjoyment; like the new Bloomerang lilac that blooms multiple times each year.
#23 Lilies (Lilium) Summer Blooming Perennial
Lilies have a robust spicy-sweet scent. Both the cut flowers and the blooms on the plant are long-lasting, and the flowers come in many colors. A bouquet of lilies can perfume the whole house!
#24 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 mountain landscape.
#25 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.
#26 Mock Orange (Philadelphus) Spring Blooming Perennial
If you are unfamiliar with the mock orange fragrance, at your first encounter you might think you are in a citrus grove in full bloom. The scent of the small white flowers truly mimics the smell of oranges.
#27 Moonflower (Ipomoea) Summer through Fall Blooming Annual
This night bloomer has a surprising scent of cinnamon and roses. The most fragrance is found at end of summer and only after the sun goes down, thus the name ‘Moonflower’.
#28 Naked Lady (Amaryllis Belladonna) Fall Blooming Perennial
The rather lewd common name of Naked Lady was given because the flowers bloom before the leaves appear. The beautiful tubular flowers give off a lovely scent that often smells of bubble gum.
#29 Night-Blooming Jasmine (Cestrum) Winter Blooming Annual
The scent of night-blooming jasmine wafts in and out of the air, usually catching you when the air is still. Unlike Jasminum officinale, which can be very sweet, night-blooming jasmine is often described as a sultry scent.
#30 Pennyroyal (Mentha) Summer Blooming Perennial
Pennyroyal is one of the most active smelling members of the mint family. It’s an attractive, creeping plant perfect as a ground cover for areas you’ll be walking on, releasing its fragrance.
#31 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.
#32 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.
#33 Rose – 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.
#34 Star Jasmine (Trachelospermum) Spring to Summer Blooming
This evergreen, twining tangle of vines is not a 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.
#35 Stock (Matthiola) Spring and Fall Blooming Annual
It’s hard to believe that stock is a member of the cabbage family. Also known as gillyflower, stock blossoms pack an intense clove-like scent in their small flowers. Best planted very early in spring and late summer.
#36 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.
#37 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.
#38 Sweet Autumn Clematis (Clematis) Fall Blooming Perennial
In fall this plant is covered with a cloud of white flowers. The beautiful blooms give off a gentle vanilla scent, best enjoyed when walking under a blossom-covered trellis, arch or pergola.
#39 Sweet Pea (Lathyrus) Spring Blooming Annual
Sweet peas offer an abundance of cut flowers. Unfortunately, breeders have been focusing on more blooms and less fragrance. Look for traditional varieties that have sweet peas’ beloved spicy scent.
#40 Sweet Woodruff (Asperula) Spring Blooming Annual
Sweet woodruff has a grassy vanilla scent, which is more beautiful than its description. It is often compared to the smell of newly mown hay.
#41 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.
#42 Tuberose (Polianthes) Summer Blooming Annual
These flowers have an unusual sweet scent that has been likened to everything from candy to Dr. Pepper soda. The stalks support large, white flowers that can grow to 5 ft. tall. In mountain gardens, the bulbs can be lifted and stored for winter.
Until next week, I’ll be here at Watters Garden Center helping gardeners choose the most fragrant blossoms for their landscapes.
Ken Lain can be found throughout the week at Watters Garden Center, 1815 W. Iron Springs Rd in Prescott, or contacted through his website at WattersGardenCenter.com