Fragrant and aromatic plants add so much enjoyment to a garden. Here I’m going to talk about how to capture scent in a garden so it’s not lost on the wind, and different types of fragrant and aromatic plants you might enjoy in your garden, on your patio or balcony and in your window box.

Technical note

Fragrance refers to the flower scent and those scents that are given off freely by plants.

Aroma has to be released from inside the plant by, for example, crushing a leaf.

How to capture scent

Shelter

A sheltered site will capture the scent of your fragrant and aromatic plants. This is where walled urban courtyards and small suburban gardens often seem to hold many of the cards. If you garden on an exposed site, plant trees and shrubs on the windward site to provide some shelter and to allow scent to linger in the air.

Nicotiana 'Fragrant Cloud'. aspect

Nicotiana 'Fragrant Cloud'. © cristina.sanvito and reused under https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Bring the scent closer to you

  • Planting in troughs and window boxes, tubs and containers that can be moved, and in raised beds brings the plants closer to your nose.
  • Plant around windows and doors.
  • Plant winter-flowering shrubs such as sarcococca and witch hazel near to the house for convenience in cold weather.

Plant against a warm wall

Warmth seems to encourage yet more scent from plants and the radiated heat from a brick or stone wall will make it last longer into the evening.

Along the path

Plants like thyme and camomile will tolerate growing underfoot in a path. Grow plants where they will be brushed against and so give off their scent. I am growing a small rosemary hedge behind the front gate which I hope will do just this. Lavender (so attractive to bees, butterflies and other insects) lines the path along which I rumble the wheelie bins on their way to the curb.

Above our heads

Plants which climb, scramble and ramble above our heads over pergola and arbour, arch and fence - or indeed up trellis, netting and screen, column, tripod and wigwam - will spread their scent further. There is a good choice of lovely plants: roses, clematis and honeysuckle are wonderful climbers. Look for Lonicera periclymenum, the most sweetly scented honeysuckle of all or Lonicera fragantissima, shrubby honeysuckle, which grows to 2.1m / 7ft and has small white flowers in winter.

Use the prevailing wind

Scent wafting in on the breeze through the windows or towards a patio means summer.

7 fragrant perennials and annuals

  1. Wallflowers have a very powerful scent and bees love them.
  2. Lily of the valley is a woodland plant which enjoys shady positions. It can be forced for indoor flowering and is also a good cut flower.
  3. The family of garden pinks (which includes Sweet William) can fill an area with scent. Some have a pronounced smell of cloves which I like.
  4. Limnanthes, the so-called poached egg plant, is fragrant and very attractive to bees.
  5. Nicotiana (the tobacco plant) smells wonderful at night and its white form has an almost luminous quality at night.
  6. Sweet peas!
  7. What about chocolate cosmos? A tender Mexican perennial with a scent of vanilla and hot chocolate.
Sweet peas by Bernard Spragg NZ.

Sweet peas by Bernard Spragg NZ. Public domain.

7 fragrant and aromatic trees and shrubs

  1. All conifers have aromatic foliage.
  2. The Daphnes flower in spring. Bring a few sprigs inside and fill a room with their intense scent.
  3. Jasmine, whether white in summer or yellow winter-flowering.
  4. Philadelphus, the mock orange, is one of the easiest shrubs to grow and its scent fills the garden.
  5. I like white lilac very much.
  6. All roses - but the sweet briar or eglantine rose has leaves which smell of apples when wet. Trim each year to promote fresh new growth as this has the strongest scent.
  7. Viburnums. Viburnum x bodnantense and spring-flowering Viburnum x burkwoodii both have heady scents. Early summer-flowering Viburnum × juddii has clove-scented flowers.

7 fragrant bulbs and corms

  1. The white crocus ‘Snow Bunting’ is streaked with purple and is the best for scent.
  2. Snowdrop ‘Magnet’ and ‘Straffan’ have a honey scent.
  3. The Algerian iris – Iris unguicularis - flowers in late winter and works brilliantly as a cut flower, filling the house with honey. ‘Walter Butt’ is very long-lasting.
  4. Muscari, the grape hyacinth.
  5. Rich and spicy jonquils (in the Narcissi family).
  6. Lilies are well known for their scent and not difficult to grow.
  7. Tulips and there’s so much choice. I’ve been wanting to grow ‘Angelique’ for a while.
Tulip 'Angelique'. fragrant

Tulip 'Angelique'. © Sakurai Midori and reused under https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/

7 aromatic plants

  1. Santolina or cotton lavender has yellow button-like flowers and silver-grey foliage. When trimmed regularly it makes a good edging plant.
  2. Fennel’s ferny foliage smells of aniseed and is great with fish.
  3. Marjoram and oregano are essential in Italian food and loved by bees.
  4. I love the smell of southernwood (or boy’s love or old man) which reminds me of childhood. It’s an artemisia and can look very gnarled and wise.
  5. The mints, of course, and there are many. I’d like to try ginger mint.
  6. Lemon balm has fresh bright green leaves in spring with a bold lemon scent. Bees love its small white flowers and it makes a good tea.
  7. I know others love the curry plant, Helichrysum italicum, but I’d rather cut to the chase and just eat a curry.
Lemon balm. fragrant

Lemon balm. © Wendell Smith and reused under https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

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