Fragrance is magical. It evokes memory better than any other sense. Brush a tomato plant, and suddenly you're 7 years old again, planting a vegetable garden with your dad. Catch a spicy whiff of sycamore, and you're reliving your college days, sharing kisses under the trees on the commons.
Even unpleasant scents have their purposes. Bad-smelling plants are often the inedible or poisonous ones. Bad odors also protect the plants, persuading people, birds, and insects to stay away.
It's easy to add a pleasurable dimension to your landscape by filling it with appealingly fragrant plants. But not every plant touted as aromatic is indeed so.
The scent of roses, for example, is notoriously fickle. Some, such as 'Mister Lincoln', have a legendary rich fragrance. Others are only lightly scented. Still others deliver about as much bouquet as a sheet of notebook paper. Conversely, peonies aren't famous for their fragrance, but a small stand has enough scent to fill a corner of your garden.
Careful, though: The wrong choice can be disgusting. The Koreanspice viburnum (Viburnum carlesii) smells spectacular. But other viburnums can make you wish you hadn't inhaled. When correctly grown from cuttings, Carolina allspice (Calycanthus floridus) is a shrub with a nice spicy aroma. But inferior plants grown from seed can smell like vinegar.
With fragrant flowers, as with people, appearances can be deceiving. Hybridizing often sacrifices fragrance for gorgeous looks. Many of the most scent-laden species are the most humble-looking, with small white or cream flowers and a growth habit that tends toward scraggly -- such as sweet Annie (Artemisia annua), sweet olive (Osmanthus fragrans), and mignonette (Reseda odorata).
But a few look as spectacular as they smell. The wildly popular 'Star Gazer' Oriental lily will draw people across a garden to examine its beauty more closely. Then they're hit with its heady fragrance for a true gardening double whammy.
That's what magic is all about, mesmerizing the nose as well as the eye.Positioning Fragrant Plants
Get the most from your fragrant plants by using a little forethought when placing them in your garden.
Near a sitting area. You'll detect scents better when you sit still long enough to let them surround you. Include pots of fragrant plants on decks, porches, and patios. Allow odoriferous vines to wind up porch pillars or trellises near your favorite outdoor chair.
Beside an entry. What could be a better welcome than a whiff of wonderful fragrance? Lilacs, fragrant roses, Oriental lilies, hyacinths, Daphne, jasmines, and sweet autumn clematis practically beg visitors to come to your door.
Around your nose. Plan sweet-smelling encounters up close and personal, as in window boxes, tall planters, raised beds, or pots on tables, steps, or stands.
Outside a window. Strongly scented flowers that produce enough scent to waft indoors -- especially effective for bedroom windows -- include Koreanspice viburnum, sweet olive (Osmanthus fragrans), Oriental lilies, lilacs, Daphne, jasmines, and gardenias.
In a mass. One lily-of-the-valley plant won't have much effect, but a dozen or more will stop passersby.
Underfoot. Low-growing herbs, such as thyme and mint, are especially nice planted among flagstones or other places where they're likely to be stepped on, releasing their pleasant aromas with every step.