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Stop and Smell The Roses! Fragrant Plants Youll Love

The Power of Fragrance

A few years ago, I was walking through a wonderful rose garden with a friend, and I pointed out one of my favorite varieties – the old-fashioned rose Madame Ernest Calvat, which boasts a rich, exotic, spicy fragrance. “You’ve got to smell this,” I said. She bent close and took a deep breath, was silent for a long moment, and then said, “Wow. That…that really takes you places, doesn’t it?”

That’s the power of fragrance. Scent, more than any of the other senses, really does have the ability to transport you – whether it’s a new flower that carries you off to an exotic, unknown land, or a familiar and beloved lilac or lily that instantly transports you to a grandparent’s garden. A garden filled with captivating scents is emotionally evocative and will linger in the memories of you and your visitors.

I always have my old favorites like lilies and lilacs in my gardens, as well as marigolds whose sharp scent makes me feel like a five-year-old again, saying goodbye to my plants before the first day of kindergarten. But I also love including new and different fragrant plants – fresh scents that beckon to new adventures and places to explore.

The Forgotten Art of Fragrance

Unfortunately, fragrance often gets short shrift in the gardening world. Scents can’t be captured in a photograph or a blog post, and fragrance gets scant attention in most modern plant breeding. But there are still so many wonderful fragrant plants out there that you’ve probably never grown – and trust me, you should try them.

Fragrant Wonders for the Sun

Dwarf Formosa Lily

You know Easter lilies, of course – they’re great, with that amazing fragrance. Alas, they’re not hardy in my area, nor in most parts of the country. But the Formosa lily (Lilium formosanum), a close relative, is a terrific alternative. The straight species is huge, 6 feet or more tall, and a bit iffy on winter hardiness for me in Zone 5. So I tried growing the dwarf Formosa lily instead, because it’s native to high mountain elevations and I was hoping it would be hardier.

It turns out that it is – despite references that say it’s only hardy to Zone 6. And what’s crazy is that those massive, 6-inch-wide, trumpet-shaped white flowers sit on a plant that tops out at 8 to 12 inches tall. The bloom is nearly the size of the rest of the plant! The best way to grow this plant is en masse – a dozen clustered together in full bloom makes an unforgettable visual and olfactory experience. Even better, it’s super easy to grow from seed, so you can have lots of them blooming the summer after you start the seeds.

Fringed Pinks

Pinks (Dianthus spp. and cultivars) are famous for their scent – except, of course, for the forms like modern carnations that have had it bred out for the sake of long vase life. For the fragrant ones, the word that’s most often used to describe their scent is “clove-like” – they have a spicy, rather than sweet and cloying, fragrance. There are many great pinks out there, but fringed pink is one of my favorites, not only for its top-notch aroma but also for the unique long, trailing fringe on the petals.

The key to getting the best garden performance from fringed pinks is to give them lean, well-drained conditions, which will keep the plant compact. Grown in richer, wetter soil, the stems can stretch to 3 feet long and start to flop all over the place. The heaviest bloom is in early summer, but if you deadhead, you’ll often get a light rebloom later in the season, especially if it isn’t too hot.

Pale Evening Primrose

Some evening primroses (Oenothera spp.) are weeds that seed around, while others run like the wind and will eat a medium-sized border for lunch. But when they’re good, they’re very, very good, and pale evening primrose is one of the best. The huge, gorgeous, 3.5-inch-wide pure white flowers are, of course, intensely fragrant, smelling of almond and jasmine.

Most fragrant white flowers only open or are only fragrant in the evening, but this plant’s flowers, despite the name “evening primrose,” stay open and pump out fragrance all day long. Even better, it starts flowering in late spring and keeps blooming pretty much up until frost. The only flaw is its growing habit – it makes a mound about 2.5 feet tall and wide, but it’s a rather floppy, sprawling mound, especially in rich soil with regular water. I like it best tucked into a full border of other perennials, where it can amble and flop around, dropping its gorgeous scented petals here and there among the other plants.

Fragrant Wonders for the Shade


Stand back and prepare to be overwhelmed by the list of amazing attributes thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus) boasts. It’s a raspberry with thornless stems, stunning huge maple-leaf-shaped leaves, and large, rose-scented, bright pink flowers that rebloom all summer long – in the shade. And it’s native to the eastern United States.

Oh, and did I mention that those flowers produce raspberries? Admittedly, they’re small raspberries, but ones with rich, excellent flavor. Native-plant people, you need this. Edible-landscape people, you also need this. And everyone else needs it for the fragrance.

It does have one small flaw – it will sucker and spread, but not far and not fast, just enough to slowly form a large stand. But because it’s thornless, excess suckers are easily removed to keep it contained to a 4- to 5-foot-wide patch, appropriate for all but the smallest of gardens.

Fragrant Hostas

Several people in my old neighborhood grew fragrant hostas. On warm August evenings when I’d go for long, rambling walks as the light faded, I’d walk in and out of rich, sweet clouds of honeysuckle-like perfume that would drift for nearly a block if the air was still. There are some flowers for which you need to get down and stick your nose right into to smell them, but fragrant hostas go out and track you down.

Hosta plantaginea is the original fragrant hosta and is still well worth growing for its big green leaves and late-summer white flowers. But there are now some wonderful hybrids that combine the aroma with more diverse foliage, like Fragrant Blue, which has – you guessed it – blue leaves on a small plant only a foot tall and wide, and the wonderful Guacamole, with chartreuse foliage and green margins, growing up to 18 inches tall and 3 feet wide when mature.

False Lily-of-the-Valley

I was introduced to false lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis “Rosea”) more or less against my will. On one of my first visits to Arrowhead Alpines, the nursery where I would later work, the owner, Brigitta Stewart, came up to me carrying a pot containing a small, fairly boring-looking plant and insisted that I needed one. I tried to say no a couple of times, but I finally relented and took the plant home.

It spent the summer sitting there, looking fine and not doing much of anything. But when the following spring arrived, out came little spikes of star-shaped white flowers, pumping out an absolutely delightful fragrance. I was in love. I now consider it essential and, like Brigitta, all but force it on unwilling gardening friends.

The common name would be more accurate, I think, if “false” were replaced with “well-mannered.” Clocking in at 6 to 8 inches tall, with very lily-of-the-valley-like leaves, flowers, and even fragrance, this plant stays in a tidy, restrained clump, maybe a foot across, behaving like a polite hosta rather than staging a hostile takeover of the entire garden in the manner of true lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis).

Purple Cyclamen

Cyclamens as a whole are great plants, but purple cyclamen (Cyclamen purpurascens) is unbeatable when it comes to fragrance. Brilliant pink flowers in late summer have a complex, rich scent that puts even the best old roses to shame. Add in silver-patterned, evergreen leaves and impressive winter hardiness (friends tell me that this is the best cyclamen for frigid Zone 4), and this is a hard plant to beat.

The leaves grow low to the ground, with the flowers dancing an inch or two above that. Tubers will slowly expand year after year, with older plants eventually reaching the width of a dinner plate. When buying this or any cyclamen, be careful not to get cheap, dried bulbs from the big Dutch-bulb companies, as these bulbs have often been collected from the wild and been dried out to the point that, although they look good, they’ll never actually grow again. Look instead for nursery-propagated plants from smaller nurseries, which will ship you fresh, happy plants in active growth.

The Fragrance Paradox

You know, it’s kind of paradoxical that while everyone loves good-smelling flowers, plant breeders have been focusing on long-lasting flowers because everyone likes a carnation that lasts weeks in a vase. And when each individual flower lives longer on a petunia, you get a better show in the garden. Which is good, right?

Well, it turns out that for most flowers, aroma production and length of flower life are tightly linked by a plant hormone called ethylene. The short story is, more ethylene makes a flower fade faster but produce more scent, while less ethylene causes the opposite effect. So plant breeders, with the best intentions, have made showier, longer-lasting flowers with little or no aroma.

So embrace the flowers that fade a little faster. It’s a small price to pay for the joys of fragrance. And why not head on over to Today’s Gardens to see what fragrant wonders they have in store?

Today’s Garden is Garden and Landscape Company, provides all you need about Garden and Landscape Design to get better garden decorations.

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