Plant fragrance in the garden

When many people begin planning a new garden, their thoughts turn to the color, height and bloom time of perennials. Few folks consider fragrance, but they should. Scents fill outdoor spaces with sweetness or spiciness and may evoke memories of the past.

Fragrance can be designed into the garden the same way that color can, so that it can be enjoyed from spring until fall.


Start the season with some fragrant spring bulbs. Hyacinths are known for their showy, heavily-scented flowers in shades of pink, purple, yellow and white. Grape hyacinths are also fragrant and will naturalize into small colonies. Plant spring-flowering bulbs in the fall. They are found in your local garden center beginning around Labor Day.

One of spring's most highly-fragrant plants, lily of the valley, is a lovely ground cover. Plant it where it has room to spread. Be sure to pick some flowers for small bouquets so you will enjoy their delicious perfume inside, too.

Sweet woodruff blooms a little later in spring and although it is not as aggressive as lily of the valley, it is an ideal ground cover for shady spots. It has pretty, bright green, whorled foliage and delicate, star-shaped white flowers. Sweet woodruff is beautiful grown in large drifts tickling the trunks of trees.

Don't forget to add some fragrant spring annuals. Include sweet alyssum and pansies in spring containers near the front door and welcome visitors with their sweet perfume.

Peonies are another must-have plant for the fragrant garden. These long-lived perennials come in shades of pink, red, and white and flowers can be single, semidouble or double. Their scent transports me to my mother's garden, walking with her and grandmother while admiring their lovely blooms and breathing in their sweet aroma.

Spring-flowering shrubs add fragrance to the landscape, too. Koreanspice viburnum is a must-have for the heady perfume of its pink-budded, white flowers in mid to late spring. Plant one near your deck or patio, sit back and enjoy.

Lilacs may be the most commonly grown fragrant shrubs, and there are many varieties to choose from. Plant lilacs for screening an unwanted view; add one to the shrub border; or plant one near a window where its perfumed scent will waft inside.


Roses are top on the fragrance list. Some of the newer varieties have been bred for qualities other than fragrance, but there are still many available in scents from sweet and citrusy to spicy and musky. Purchase roses when they are blooming so you can breathe in the scent before buying.

Henry's Garnet Virginia sweetspire is a summer-flowering shrub that boasts 6-inch lightly scented white flower spikes. It grows 3 to 4 feet tall and has the added bonus of vibrant purple-red fall color.

There are many perennials with fragrant flowers or foliage. Plant bee balm, hummingbird mint and catmint for their mintlike aroma. The flowers of some hosta varieties have a lovely scent. Garden lilies offer powerful perfume.

Consider planting some herbs. Several varieties of lavender are hardy in our area if given well-drained soil. Plant lemon-scented thyme and release its fresh scent whenever it's stroked or stepped on. The fragrance of rosemary can be enjoyed outside in the summer and inside in winter when the plant is grown in a sunny window.

Add heliotrope to your summer containers and enjoy their deep purple flowers while breathing in the aroma of vanilla.


Chrysanthemums are the unofficial flower of fall. Stroke their aromatic leaves to bring back memories of past autumns - maybe high school football games or Homecoming dances.

Fall is the perfect time to plant pansies now available in rich autumnal hues. Many fall-planted varieties will survive the winter to bloom again next spring.

Sweet Autumn clematis is an exuberant, fragrant, late-blooming vine. A very prolific bloomer, it is nearly smothered in small, star-shaped white flowers from late summer into fall. It is more vigorous than its summer-blooming cousins - it grows 15 to 20 feet tall.

The color of flowers and foliage and the height and size of plants are important considerations when planning a garden, but don't forget to choose some plants for fragrance so you can breathe in their perfume whenever you spend time in the garden.

• Diana Stoll is a horticulturist and the garden center manager at The Planter's Palette, 28W571 Roosevelt Road, Winfield. Call (630) 293-1040, ext. 2, or visit

A peony's perfume may call to mind childhood memories.
Plant thyme around flagstones and release its scent when its stepped on.
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