By Ellen Barcel
Every garden is a reflection of the tastes of the gardener: a children’s play area, fresh veggies, grapes for homemade wine or jam, a place to read and relax in the extensive greenery, privacy around a swimming pool, etc.
While some plants have little or no scent, or an unappealing one, many have a sweet or pleasing scent. Depending on your preference, you may want a very fragrant garden; or, if you’re allergic to sweet scents, you may want to know which plants to avoid. Here’s a rundown of some very fragrant, sweetly scented plants that will perfume your garden and your home.
Lilacs are known for their beautiful scent. Unfortunately, most only produce flowers in spring. Depending on your other choices, you may want to plant them as part of a whole plan — a number of fragrant plants blooming throughout the growing season. There are some varieties that are billed as rebloomers. The second bloom is usually not as lush as the first.
Roses should be selected by reading the tags or catalog descriptions carefully. Some roses have been cultivated to be beautiful but have little scent. Research your selections carefully so that you get exactly what you want. ‘Double Delight’ has a fruity or spicy scent, while ‘Julia Child’ has the scent of licorice and ‘Fragrant Cloud’ has a sweet perfume.
Honeysuckle is very sweetly scented, but note that some varieties are on the Do Not Sell List because of their invasive nature. Honeysuckle is native to the northern hemisphere, including North America, Europe and Asia. The plant is particularly popular for its intensely fragrant white flowers.
Mints are herbaceous perennials with a strong aroma. They can be used in cooking (jams, jellies, iced tea, etc.) or just enjoyed in the garden. Brush against the leaves and you release the wonderful scent. Lavender is in the mint family. Lavender is not native to the Americas but has been grown here since colonial times. It has been used as an insect repellent, to freshen clothes, to flavor foods and to scent cosmetics and soaps.
Lily of the Valley is a woodland plant that is very sweetly scented. Another benefit is that it does well in shady areas. But, be careful here, as the plant is toxic. As with all plants you are considering adding to your garden, make sure that no little children or pets can ingest it.
Bee balm is also a member of the mint family. A native of North America, it has even been used to make a tea. Flower colors range from red to purple.
Gardenias are extremely fragrant, but must be grown as a house plant on Long Island — they are cold tolerant only to zone 8. Yes, they can be moved to the outdoors in the summer and they will certainly add to the fragrance.
Jasmine is so strongly scented that some people avoid it as a result. Jasmine does well in zones 6 through 10 and requires full sun. Blossoms can be used to scent water in indoor arrangements and can also be used to scent tea.
Viburnum is a woody shrub that can easily reach 10 or more feet tall. Some species have flowers that are strongly scented. The white flowers are followed by bright red berries.
Mock orange is a woody shrub that does well in zones 4 to 7. It blooms in summer with lovely white flowers and an orangey aroma.
Flowering tobacco (Nicotiana) has sweetly scented, tube-shaped flowers available in a variety of colors: pink, white, red. It is usually grown as an annual but don’t be surprised if it survives a mild winter.
Hyacinths are spring blooming bulbs with a very strong sweet scent. Plant them in autumn before the ground has frozen. Like all spring flowering bulbs, after the flowers have died down, allow the green leaves to continue growing to provide food for the bulbs for next year. By summer those leaves will have disappeared.
Ellen Barcel is a freelance writer and master gardener. To reach Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County and its Master Gardener program, call 631-727-7850.