Mackenzie Kupfer has been a lover of all things green since the age of six when she began gardening with her Nana. She is currently an online publisher for the provider of flower gardening supplies, Avant Garden Decor. In her free time, Mackenzie enjoys attending garden shows, hiking, and collecting ceramic tea sets.
It can be argued that few of our four senses has the ability to evoke emotions as compelling or conjure up memories as gratifying as our sense of smell does.
It can’t be seen or touched but it is there: the scent of a newly cut Christmas tree on a glorious winter’s day, the aroma of freshly baked bread straight from the oven, the essence of a fresh spring rain shower. Each stirs something deep within the recesses of our brains.
When fragrances are discussed flowers are often the first come to mind though many of the most vivid, vibrant, and loveliest flowers we choose for our gardens—sunflowers, dahlias, and hibiscus to name but a few—have no fragrance at all. Indeed, they play an integral role in the garden beyond being pleasing to the eye by attracting pollinators with their gaudy colorations and showy petal anatomies. But for their beauty the lack of fragrance suggests a lack of…finish if you will.
Indeed, fragrance is subjective and prone to personal tastes. What smells delightful to some may be considered objectionable to others.
The following are just a few of my favorite fragrant flowers that not only smell wonderful but are equally beautiful to the eye. Some bloom in the spring, others in the summer and fall, and others fill the evening air with captivating bouquets.
Hyacinth hyacinth orientalis
Hyacinths are a bulbous plant which blooms in the spring from March-April. Growing in clusters with bell-shaped flowers and 6-8 fleshy, lustrous-green leaves, they prefer full sun and well-drained soil. These highly fragrant beauties come in a variety of colours, from vivid magenta, indigo and lavender to softer shades of baby blue, yellow, pink, orange and white. Plus, the flower has an enduring place in antiquity, with origins in ancient languages and Greek mythology.
Sweet Pea lathyrus odoratus
Sweet Peas are an annual that climb and bloom in the late spring through early summer. However, in climates that are cooler and less prone to extreme heat they can continue to bloom all the way into fall, especially with regular deadheading. Preferring full sun and rich, well-drained soil these “odorous” winners certainly live up to their Latin moniker, attracting ever-important pollinators like bees and hummingbirds to their flower clusters. Their wide array of colors—from red, pink and white to blue and lavender and everything in between (except yellow!,) make them a great choice for bouquets.
Illustrated page from 'Favourite Flowers Of Garden and Greenhouse' Edward Step. London: Frederick Warne, 1896.
Sweet Alyssum lobularia maritima
Sweet alyssum is an easy to grow annual that makes for perfect ground cover due to its low-growing, matt-like nature. Thus, it is a natural for rock gardens and border areas though also does well in containers and hanging baskets. Its elegant, petite flowers, ranging in color from white to pink to purple, prefer full sun and a well-watered, neutral pH soil. Sweet alyssum will continue to bloom throughout the growing season (provided temperatures don’t get too high) with proper deadheading and while not as strong as other species, the flower’s sweet, delicate scent is lovely and welcome.
Heliotrope heliotropium arborescens
Long considered one of the most fragrant, this annual also has roots in antiquity, as the name is derived from the Greek translating to “turns to the sun.” This label could not be more apt, as the plant turns its white, rich purple, or pale lavender flowers and variegated, deep-green leaves toward the sun throughout the course of the day and realigns itself each night to face toward the east in accordance with the rising sun. It prefers full sun in the early part of the day but some shade as the day progresses as well rich, moist soil. A summer bloomer, the flower does well in the ground as well as in containers and baskets and thrives with proper feeding, watering and growth-inducing “pinching.”
For many, this time-honored perennial is simply a must in the garden. A tolerant and adaptable plant, this summer bloomer flourishes in full sun, drier conditions and well-drained soil and will produce a more potent oil if the soil conditions err toward the lean, alkaline side. For its marvelous smell and seemingly delicate flowers lavender is actually quite hardy and does well as ground cover in rock gardens and borders as well as in well-drained containers that are able to accommodate the extensive root system with room to spare. An effective butterfly attractor, lavender also lends itself to bouquets and drying and regular pruning promotes new growth.
Garden Phlox phlox paniculata
This upright-growing, summer-blooming perennial is an easy to grow favorite and features clusters of wonderfully fragrant, comely five-petal flowers. The color range is broad, including soft white, pink, rose, lavender, purple, magenta, and orange with many containing multiple colors. Phlox prefers full sun with some shade and loamy soil that is well-drained. Native to North America, the plant comes in a plethora of varieties, does well in containers and benefits from periodic pruning. Like other fragrant flowers, pollinators flock to phlox so a garden including this dazzler will contribute to this vital, bio-diversity encouraging necessity.
Moonflower ipomoea alba
This statuesque stunner has been described as one of the most romantic flowers one can grow in the garden and its perfume-like scent (and poisonous nature!) solidifies this notion to the letter. This annual, a cousin to the morning glory, prefers full sun, drier conditions, slightly acidic soil, and a moderate amount of water. An able climber, the plant requires a trellis, pergola, arbor fence or other structure to allow it to ascend. Of course the most alluring characteristic of the moonflower is the evening unfurling of its large, white, trumpet-like flowers, exuding its wafting scent and beauty until dawn when they retire to rest until the next night.
Plant in large clumps, for the strongest impact. The scent from flowers will dissipated when planted in a wide open, windy area. Plant them where you will be able to enjoy their fragrance most frequently.
Along a path. By a patio. Near an open window. Fragrance should have a place in garden design as much as aesthetics and as this list illustrates it is very possible to have both. While visual effect is valued by some gardeners over fragrance those with the most knowledge can effectively blend both. Those planters with a well-developed, keen sense of smell can also harmonize the distinct scents of each species, much like they do with color, to assure that each has its time to shine.
My favourite images from 'Shed Chic' - view book HERE