Using Fragrance in the Landscape

Incorporating fragrance into a landscape design is the difference between seeing a beautiful yard and experiencing a beautiful yard. The reason it has such a profound effect on our brains is because scent is directly connected to the parts of our brain that manage memories and emotion -- the amygdala and the hippocampus. These strong associations are why fragrance is as personal as it is therapeutic. Everybody residing in the home should be invited to collaborate on the list of their favorite fragrant plants for the yard or garden.

Plant Strategically

Some considerations integrating fragrant plants into a yard:

  • Scent that comes from blossoms will be seasonal. Planting various flower species so there are blooms during spring, summer, and fall will perfume the air for much of the year.
  • Flowers aren’t the only plant part that is aromatic. Some plants such as rosemary, santolina, and lavender produce volatile oils that are released when brushed by, stroked, or from the heat of the sun.
  • Capture the evening scent by planting ladies-of-night such as Flowering tobacco, Night-blooming jasmine, Casa Blanca lily, tuberose, and Moonflower.
  • When fragrances compete, it can be overwhelming. Of course, the easiest way to avoid this is to plant strong-scented species a good distance from each other. You could also choose plants that bloom in opposite seasons, so the fragrances don’t clash.
  • Coax those volatile oils out of foliage in subtle ways such as planting creeping thyme in between pavers or on the sides of a well-used pathway.
  • Always grow aromatic plants next to windows and doorways. A cleverly placed honeysuckle, pink jasmine, or Golden chain tree just outside a bedroom or kitchen makes the indoors that much sweeter.  

Fragrant Plants

Both flowers and foliage provide some of our favorite fragrances.

Annual Flowers: Pink jasmine (Jasminum polyanthum), Sweet William (Dianthus barbatus), sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus), petunia (Petunia spp.), flowering tobacco (Nicotiana alata), moonflower, (Ipomoea alba) heliotrope (Heliotropium spp.), Chocolate cosmos (Cosmos atrosanguineus), and snail vine (Cochliasanthus Caracalla).

Perennial Flowers and Shrubs: stock (Matthiola incana), Night-scented stock (Matthiola longipetala), Honeysuckle (Lonicera spp. – avoid japonica), Gardenia (Gardenia jasminoides), rose (Rosa spp.), Chocolate daisy (Berlandiera lyrate), peony (Paeonia spp.), hyacinth (Hyacinthus orientalis), daphne (Daphne spp.), lilac (Syringa spp.), Star jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides), tuberose (Polianthes tuberosa), Sweet autumn clematis (Clematis terniflora), Mock orange (Philadelphus spp.), freesia (Freesia spp.), phlox (Phlox paniculate), lavender (Lavendula spp.), Casa Blanca lily (Lilium ‘Casa Blanca’), viburnum (Viburnum spp.), Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum spp.), Night-blooming jasmine (Cestrum nocturnum), and American wisteria (Wisteria frutescens).

Foliage Fragrances: Lemon verbena (Aloysia citrodora), scented geranium (Pelargonium graveolens), yarrow (Achillea millefolium), sage (Salvia officinalis), Sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum), Bee balm (Monarda spp.), oregano (Origanum vulgare), rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis or Salvia rosmarinus), lavender (Lavendula spp.), thyme (Thymus spp.), and mint (Mentha spp.).

Fragrant Trees: Apple (Malus domestica), Golden chain tree (Laburnum spp.), Purple leaf sand cherry (Prunus x cisterna), Silk tree (Albizia julibrissin), Catalpa (catalpa spp.), Crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia), Sweetbay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana)

Eco Tip: Professionals and homeowners should consider omitting from their list species which are invasive to their area.

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