Q. Do you have any advice about using fragrant plants in the garden?
Fragrance adds greatly to a garden's appeal, for both people and pollinators. Floral scents attract beneficial insects, and fragrant foliage often wards off pests.
Naturally, you have to give some thought to which plants to place where. Here are some factors to consider in creating your fragrant garden:
- Plan for sequential blooming, so that your garden will be fragrant throughout the growing season.
- You may not want to place strongly scented plants, such as peonies and lilacs, next to each other, as their fragrances can compete with and mask each other.
- Scent strength may also determine quantity: night-blooming jasmine (Cestrum nocturnum) has such a strong scent that only one is needed, whereas sweet alyssum's delicate scent requires multiple plants in order to be noticed.
- Some plants emit scent by day, and some, such as brugmansia (angel's trumpet) and nicotiana, at night. You may want to place night-fragrant plants near a patio or a bedroom window.
- Consider prevailing winds when planting. Scents will be stronger downwind.
- Avoid planting strongly scented plants in enclosed, poorly ventilated areas. If confined, strong scents can become overpowering.
- Plant low-growing fragrant herbs as ground cover. When stepped on, they will release scent.
- Place fragrant plants under windows and near patios.
- Grow scented plants near garden seating and fragrant vines on an arbor or trellis.
- Try using containers. Fragrant plants in pots can be moved to isolate a particular fragrance, or to create different combinations of fragrances.
- For low plants that hold their scent closely, raised planters enable scents to reach people easily.
- Overhead watering can interfere with the release of floral nectar and thus scent. Use drip irrigation to keep the water at the root zone.
- Be careful when purchasing your plants. Varieties of a particular species can vary greatly in fragrance. Cultivars created by hybridization are often less fragrant.
For a description of some popular fragrant garden plants, see the University of Illinois's Fragrant Gardens information sheet. Other popular choices not listed there include hyacinth, nicotiana, gardenia (zones 8-14), sweet autumn clematis, moonflower, brugmansia, flowering crabapple, magnolias, and many spices.
In The Fragrant Garden: A Book About Sweet-Scented Flowers and Leaves (Dover, 1974), author Louise Beebe Wilder provides detailed information on a wide array of fragrant plants, ranging from "Earliest Scents" to "Plants of Evil Odour." Fragrant Gardens, by Jane Taylor (Salem House, 1987) lists aromatic plants by season, illustrated with photographs.
For tips on a variety of gardening topics, see our Plant Information Guides.
- Courtesy of NYBG Plant Information Service