Planning and Planting a Fragrant Garden
Fragrance has a nearly magical effect on us, both transporting us back in time as it calls cherished memories so forcefully to mind, and elevating and enhancing our moods and emotions. Aromatherapy uses essential oils to stimulate this connection we have with fragrance. So, too, can your garden support your love of fragrance, as blooms and fragrant foliage are the origin of so many scents we crave.
Why Does Fragrance Trigger Memories?
The reason scents have such a powerful affect on our memories and emotions is the way they are processed by our brains. Unlike taste or sight or sound, scents are first passed through the amygdala and the hippocampus - the two main parts of the brain that are responsible for memories and emotion.
Whatever the science behind the phenomenon - many gardeners love fragrance so much, it is more important to us than the appearance of the blooms we love. So planning and planting for fragrance is an important part of of enjoying your garden!
Why Are Flowers Fragrant?
Some plants and flowers have developed fragrance as a way of attracting the pollinators they need to ensure their reproduction. Generally, the brightly colored blooms don't have as much scent, because they appeal to their pollinators through their color. Often it is the white and yellow blooms that tend to be the most fragrant as these colors do not stand out to insects like the brighter hues do. Not to worry - hybridizers are always working hard to increase the fragrance of the colorful blooms in order to attract gardeners! :)
It is important to remember that an appreciation for a particular fragrance is highly personal, and not necessarily shared by others. For instance, I dearly love the scent of apple cider vinegar - true story! - because it immediately transports me to our childhood kitchen with my mom making colored Easter eggs. :) I suspect there is a similar connection for those who love the scent of paperwhites. Some people hate it - and others love it. Very few seem to be on the fence with the heavy, musky odor of paperwhites. So take care to verify that you, too, love a particular scent before investing time and money into filling your garden with it.
For this article, I will focus on the fragrant blooms that everyone seems to love!
Bloom Times for Garden Fragrance
For a fragrant garden, you will want to select a variety of bulbs and plants to provide you with fragrance throughout the year. Some bloom for long periods of time, like fragrant daylilies, hybrid tea roses or butterfly bushes, while others appear for a short but glorious time in the garden. Select some long blooming varieties to form the foundation of your fragrant garden, then tuck in the shorter blooming varieties as accents. Keep track of what you have planted and its actual blooming times in your garden. Then search for more varieties to provide lovely scent when those plants are not in bloom. Be sure to plant enough of your favorites to perfume the garden and to fill your vases! Fragrant herbs are a terrific way to extend the period of fragrance in your garden.
Freesias bloom in a wide range of colors, and the fragrance is just exquisite! Often found in perfumes and scented bath products, the scent of freesias is very fresh, sweet and clear but with terrific depth. Hardy only in very mild winter climates (zones 9-11) freesias can be grown with great success in any climate if planted in the spring.
Typically blooming in 90-110 days from planting, the leaves of freesias are small and fan shaped. Fine, but unexciting. I plant my freesias in a container to tuck into the back of the bed where they will get full sun and only a little water. But when they begin to bloom, I carry that fabulous fragrance with me as I complete garden chores. Plant 12-15 freesia bulbs in a 10-12 inch planter, and stagger your plantings 2 weeks apart. With a pot of fragrant freesias coming into bloom every two weeks, you will extend the time to enjoy these beautiful blooms! Also a terrific cut flower, plant plenty of freesias for your vases, too! While all freesias are scented, the white and the yellow are far and away the most fragrant of the freesia.
Fragrant Garden Peonies
Herbaceous garden peonies are at the opposite end of the climate spectrum from the freesias. Thriving in cold winter climates (zones 3-8) the long-lived peony is often lushly fragrant. Just take care to confirm the variety is fragrant before you choose it. Peonies bloom in the spring, at different times depending upon the climate. Typically, late April to mid June is peony time in the garden, but each variety will bloom early, middle or late in this window. A great way to extend the fragrance in your garden is to select early, mid and late-blooming varieties.
Peonies are resistant to deer and disease and pests in general, and produce some of the very best cut flowers. Enjoy fragrant peony blooms for 75+ years from a single plant!
Fragrant Lily of the Valley
Another favorite for the cold winter garden is the sweetly scented lily of the valley. Hardy zones 2-8 and even 9 in very foggy locations, lily of the valley thrives in shady gardens, where the wide foliage creates a dense, lush ground cover decked with arching stems of sweetly scented little bell shaped blooms. So romantic! Blooming in mid spring, typically March through May, depending upon the climate. While a vigorous grower that can be difficult to eradicate, lily of the valley will happily grow in containers, which keep it nicely corralled. As toxic as it is enchanting, do not plant lily of the valley if your dogs or small children are likely to nibble.
Smooth Touch Roses
Don't you just love the fragrance of hybrid tea roses? And isn't it a pity that so many
modern roses have no scent? I was beyond excited to learn of the thornless hybrid tea roses with fragrance! Sounds just like home made fudge that's good for you, doesn't it? :) Smooth Touch Roses® are specifically bred for three main qualities - that gorgeous hybrid tea rose form, exquisite fragrance and thornless-ness - 95% thorn free! These thornless, fragrant roses are a perfect way to fill your garden with fragrance from late spring through fall. With months of beautifully fragrant blooms, these lovelies are perfect to provide a long-blooming foundation for your fragrant garden. Hardy zones 5-11, provide smooth touch roses with thick mulch in zones 5 and 6.
Tuberoses have long been the platinum standard for fragrance in the summer garden, with richly sensuous fragrance filling the late afternoons. (A word to the wise - Victorians restricted young girls from tuberoses, fearing the scent would result in spontaneous orgasms!) The scent is certainly seductive, and a single blooming stem can fill a room with sweetness. Remember that scent was developed to beckon to pollinators. The fragrance of tuberoses redoubles in the late afternoon, just after the high heat of the day has broken, as they cast their lures to the moths they rely on.
If the pink blooms in the image above are distracting you - tuberoses now come in color! Pink, violet and yellow blooms have now been developed, and their fragrance is fabulous, too, with an added fruity note. Though only hardy in zones 9-11, tuberoses can be planted in any climate in the spring, and brought indoors over the winter. Look for the scented blooms in late summer, with the single flower form blooming about 3 weeks before the double. I always plant both the single and the double form to enjoy a longer period of tuberose blooms. Tuberoses grow well in containers, too!
This is just an introduction to the wide world of fragrant flowers for your garden. Many
groups of plants that are not usually fragrant have some scented members, like daylilies, tulips and daffodils. And there are many fragrant bulbs and plants you just haven't met yet that are just waiting for you to discover them!
What are some of your favorite garden scents? Do you select your plants based on fragrance? I would love to know!
I expect that I will be adding to this post many times. Until then...
- Kathleen McCarthy