Everyone likes a beautiful bloom, but everyone loves a fragrant one! Happily, there's a wealth of easy-to-grow annuals that offer sweetly scented flowers you can include in your garden -- from light citrusy and floral scents to rich chocolate.
Here are some of the most fragrant annual flowers:
Heliotrope (Heliotropium arborescens) produces dense, flat clusters of deep purple, lavender, or white flowers that have a vanilla fragrance and deeply crinkled dark green leaves. It's sometimes called cherry pie plant because of the cherry undertones to the vanilla scent. Heliotrope is a tender perennial that can be grown outdoors all year in Zones 9-11. Grow in full sun but protect it with afternoon shade in the hot regions where it is perennial. In Zones 8 and colder, grow it as an annual.
Stock (Matthiola incana) and evening stock (Matthiola longipetala) may sound like soup bases, but they're clove-scented biennials -- plants that take two years to set seed and die -- that are often grown as annuals. The dense clusters of white, yellow, red, pink, or blue fragrant flowers are favorites for bouquets. Evening stock is more sprawling, with flowers with narrower petals that open in the evening. Grow in full sun to partial shade.
Virginia stock (Malcolmia maritima) has a similar common name, but the magenta, red, cream, or lavender four-petal blooms are larger -- about an inch wide -- growing in clusters on the ends of the stems. Grow in full sun.
Four o'clock (Mirabilis jalapa) earned its common name because its fragrant flowers open in late afternoon. A tender perennial hardy in Zones 9-11, but grown as an annual through most of North America, four o'clock's trumpet-shape blooms are red, pink, white, or yellow and sometimes striped. Grow it in full sun.
Two types of flowering tobacco, Nicotiana alata and Nicotiana sylvestris, offer fragrance in beds, borders, and containers. Old-fashioned varieties are your best bet; many of the newer hybrid bedding-plant varieties carry little scent. All are relatives of tomatoes and peppers, with white, pink, red, or pale green blooms that offer scent in late afternoon or evening. Grow in full sun to partial shade.
The creamy-white to yellow blossoms of mignonette (Reseda odorata) grow on short stems and make good cut flowers. Star-shape flowers with four to seven fringed petals emit a vanilla-raspberry scent. Grow in full sun to partial shade.
It's too bad that sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritima) grows so low to the ground: The mounded masses of tiny white, pink, lavender, or violet blooms smell like honey. Grow in full sun to light shade, and bring the plants closer to nose level by planting them in containers, window boxes, or hanging baskets.
The white morning-glory flowers of moonflower (Ipomoea alba) appear to glow at night when its luscious sweet scent attracts pollinators. The blooms of this annual vine open in the evening and close each morning. Grow in full sun.
Grow old-fashioned varieties of petunias (Petunia selections) for a spicy, clovelike scent. The funnel-shape flowers come in many sizes and color patterns. Grow in full sun to partial shade.
Look for seeds or transplants of these varieties at your local garden center in spring.