Perfect Perennials

Take a walk down memory lane in a garden filled with fragrant perennials.
This garden is rich with the fragrance of lavender and old-fashioned roses.

Walk down the path of a garden designed with fragrance in mind, and you'll think you're in paradise. In fact, you don't even have to open your eyes to take in the bounty; just follow your nose. Breathe in the clean herbal scents of Russian sage and rosemary, the sweet perfumes of roses, heliotrope, and lilacs, or the spice of dianthus. These fragrant perennials and flowering shrubs are sure to stir the memories of even the least sentimental garden visitor.

When it comes to cultivating your own fragrance garden, consider these elements:

Proximity. Locate your fragrance garden where you'll have easy access -- by a walkway, patio, deck, or entryway. Many plants with scented foliage, such as artemisia and scented geraniums, release their fragrances only when touched, making their location even more important. Plants in portable containers can be moved to wherever their fragrance will be enjoyed.

Timing. Remember to choose a variety of plants with staggered seasons of bloom. That way you'll be able to bask in floral perfume from early spring through late fall.

Elevation. To suffuse the garden with scent, include plants of varying heights: trees, vines, and shrubs, as well as herbaceous perennials, annuals, and bulbs. Wisteria, for example, provides a fragrant valance for a front porch.

Fragrant Plants

Yellow Jerusalem Sage

Whether your taste runs to the spicy clove scent of dianthus or to the sweet aroma of violets, there are many flowers to tantalize. The following list is just a sampling. Remember, as you stroll along your garden path, to enjoy the bouquet in the air as much as the one on the vine.

Common Names

Latin Names

Perennials   lily-of-the-valley Convallaria majalis dianthus Dianthus species lemon lily Hemerocallis lilio-asphodelus August lily Hosta plantaginea catmint Nepeta faassenii peony Paeonia cultivars Russian sage Perovskia atriplicifolia summer phlox Phlox paniculata sweet violet Viola odorata    

Shrubs   Carolina allspice Calycanthus floridus summersweet Clethra alnifolia winter daphne Daphne odora dwarf fothergilla Fothergilla gardenii gardenia Gardenia jasminoides English lavender Lavandula angustifolia winter honeysuckle Lonicera fragrantissima holly osmanthus Osmanthus heterophyllus sweet mock orange Philadelphus coronarius rose Rosa cultivars rosemary Rosmarinus officinalis lilac Syringa vulgaris Korean spice viburnum Viburnum carlesii    

Vines   evergreen clematis Clematis armandii moonflower Ipomoea alba jasmine Jasminum species gold flame honeysuckle Lonicera heckrottii star jasmine Trachelospermum jasminoides wisteria Wisteria species     Bulbs   hyacinth Hyacinthus orientalis Oriental hybrid lily Lilium cultivars jonquil Narcissus jonquilla tuberose Polianthes tuberosa     Annuals   heliotrope Heliotropium arborescens sweet pea Lathyrus odoratus sweet alyssum Lobularia maritima stock Matthiola incana flowering tobacco Nicotiana alata old-fashioned petunia Petunia hybrida  

The Nose Knows

The shrub rose 'Iceberg' has a delicious honey scent.

Fragrance is a personal matter. What is delightful to one person can be overwhelming to another. Here are some considerations when you're deciding how flagrant you want to be with fragrance.

Because flowers are scented to attract pollinators, those blooming in early spring or late fall are often the most aromatic, in order to tempt bees when cool temperatures make them sluggish. This is especially true of non-hybrid white flowers, which might be passed by for their colorful cousins if not for intense scent.

As a general rule, old-fashioned or heirloom varieties of annuals and perennials are more strongly scented. Many modern hybrids have been selected for improved bloom, vigor, or disease resistance, and scent is sacrificed. Newer varieties of heliotrope, for example, have been bred for compact growth habit and have lost a bit of their sweet vanilla aroma in the process.

Some scented flowers, such as angel's trumpet (Datura metel) and moonflower, wait until dusk to open. Others remain open around the clock, but their scent intensifies when the sun disappears. Take advantage of these nighttime fragrances by planting them near a deck or patio where you relax in the evening.

Some roses are more generously perfumed than others. Here are some of our favorites:

Top Fragrant Plants

  • 'Abraham Darby' (shrub)
  • 'Angel Face' (floribunda)
  • 'Auguste Renoir' (hybrid tea)
  • 'Baron Girod de l'Ain' (hybrid perpetual)
  • 'Charles de Mills' (gallica)
  • 'Double Delight' (hybrid tea)
  • 'Fragrant Cloud' (hybrid tea)
  • 'Frederic Mistral' (hybrid tea)
  • 'Gertrude Jekyll' (shrub)
  • 'Heritage' (shrub)
  • 'Iceberg' (floribunda)
  • 'Lemon Spice' (hybrid tea)
  • 'Louise Odier' (bourbon)
  • 'Mme. Hardy' (damask)
  • 'Mister Lincoln' (hybrid tea)
  • 'Peter Mayle' (hybrid tea)
  • 'Scentimental' (floribunda)
  • 'Therese Bugnet' (hybrid rugosa)
  • 'Zephirine Drouhin' (bourbon)

We could go on, but you get the idea. Rose scents range from delicate fruity or spicy aromas to heavy, sweet perfumes, with all sorts of variations in between.

Yes, you can have too much of a good thing. Tuberose, Oriental lilies, and other strongly perfumed flowers can overwhelm the senses, especially in mass plantings. Go easy on these heaviest fragrances.

Grow wonderfully fragrant scented flowers in your yard to give your eyes and nose a treat.

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