Fragrant perennials or ones that smell wonderful are a delight to the senses. They have always been treasured. In medieval times when bathing wasn’t as convenient as it is now, flowers and herbs that had strong scents were prized for their ability to cover or dissipate unfriendly odors. We still use fragrant perennials today to make perfumes and it is big business.
Flowers’ fragrances come from special glands on the petals and their purpose is to attract bees and butterflies to pollinate the flowers.
Over the years, though, because gardeners have wanted bigger flowers, flowers that bloom longer and with more vibrant colors, the fragrance of flowers has diminished as a result. Some of our modern roses have almost no scent at all so it you want fragrant roses you probably should look into heirloom flowers and you might want to order some specialty catalogs that focus just on scented perennials.
There are still many other flowers, though, that have noticeable fragrance. One of my favorites is Monarda (Bee Balm). It smells like tea to me. Many herbs are readily recognized by their scents. Just by smelling them you could probably recognize rosemary, mint, basil, garlic, onions, lemon balm and lavender, even if you didn’t know what the plant looked like.
Fragrance is a very personal thing. Not everyone enjoys the same things. Star gazer Lilies are beautiful to some people, but I think they can be overpowering and for that reason I don’t really like them in the house for very long periods of time.
The smells I especially like though include Lily of the Valley, Lilac, hyacinth, and Lavender. If I was a bridal flower designer I would be sure to find out the favorite smells of my bride and incorporate some of those scents into her bridal bouquet. Wouldn’t that be cool?
The spring is special for fragrant flowers because lilas, lily of the valley and hyacinth are all blooming at the same time,
The picture above is currently gracing my kitchen table and the perfume of both lilacs and lily of valley is flooding the house. Spectacular!
I actually bought pink hyacinth bulbs, like the ones above, in the fall and planted them in a wicker basket. They are just starting to grow now. I am going to surround them with purple pansies for a May Day gift.
Scented geraniums come in many scents and the odor is in the leaves. If you crush the leaves between your fingers you can easily see how they got their names.
If you are designing a garden for fragrance you need to put it somewhere near the house so you can enjoy it. If you have a path or a sidewalk nearby, you will release scents into the air every time you brush against your plants and if your herbs and perennials are in a raised bed, they’d be right at nose level. How nice!
Unlike many bright flowers, white flowers release their scent in the evening. The reason for this is the moths that pollinate them like the dark better. So put your white flowers where you are going to sit on a summer evening so you can enjoy their fragrances.
Not all flowers have a pleasant smell either. Some have a very strong pungent odor which is actually probably meant to protect the plant. I know many gardeners who use Marigolds all around the edge of their vegetable gardens. The purpose is to discourage deer and bunnies from entering the garden because neither of them are fans of the Marigold smell. I’m not sure this would deter a determined critter though, but it would be pretty.
Here are some fragrant perennials to get you started creating your own fragrance garden. Most oriental lilies, dame’s rocket, heritage roses, lavender, bee balm, Russian Sage, garden sage, chamomile, garden phlox, violets, lily of the valley, creeping thyme, sweet woodruff, pinks, rue, and mints. This is just a partial list. You probably have a few favorites of your own that I haven’t thought of.
You could supplement your garden with a few annuals that are fragrant too. Moon flowers are very fragrant. They are big and white and like their name suggests, they bloom at night. (Heavenly)
Petunias and sweet peas also come immediately to mind. Then of course there are the scented geraniums, all your annual herbs, Nicotiana (flowering tobacco), and annual pinks.
So enjoy creating your own little piece of scented heaven. Then find some time, this summer, to sit in the garden and enjoy it.
Perennial Garden Ideas
Spring Container Gardens
Perennial Flowering Shrubs
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