29 Dec The Fragrance of Flowers
by Amy Grisak
Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but for many gardeners the real splendor is enjoyed with the nose. Incorporating fragrant plants in the garden enriches the experience. It’s one thing to appreciate the beauty of a garden in full bloom and quite another to be enveloped by the intoxicating scent of flowers.
The sense of smell is also directly linked to memory. Many times I’ve had people tell me stories about their grandmothers after smelling the sweet peas spilling over the fence. It’s a completely different way to connect with people in the garden.
On a practical level, fragrance is a way plants entice pollinators. The sweet smell of honeysuckle, along with its brightly colored and tubular shaped flowers, is a beacon for hummingbirds. This is the same with the exotic fragrance of the Oriental lilies, particularly the Star Gazer.
Almost to prove that looks aren’t everything, nighttime is when many flowers truly shine. Although they might look a bit rangy during the day, the nicotiana varieties, particularly the tall, white Nicotiana alata, are only fragrant when the sun sets. This is when moths, its primary pollinator, are making their rounds, and are drawn to their sweet scent. I like to plant nicotiana along the porch and patio, plus near the bedroom so I can enjoy it at night when the windows are open.
Another inconspicuous flower that is surprisingly fragrant is evening-scented stock (Matthiola longipetula). By day its tiny, purple flowers are often concealed by other plants, but at night these diminutive blooms are powerfully fragrant. Although sometimes difficult to find, they are worth the effort to request at the local greenhouse, or even start on your windowsill in the spring. Tucking a single plant in a container on the porch will provide a dramatic olfactory result.
Fragrance is certainly subjective, but the classic floral scents are long-standing favorites. One old-fashioned standby is dame’s rocket (Hesperis), the purplish-pink flowers found in ditches and disturbed areas blooming in the spring. Common garden phlox looks similar to dame’s rocket, but comes in a wide range of heights and colors. Phlox tends to bloom by mid to late summer making it an ideal companion to dame’s rocket to stretch out a sweet-smelling summer.
Valerian is well-known for its sedative qualities, but it’s hard to imagine how its foul smelling root, the part used in teas for those with trouble sleeping, can be at the bottom of remarkably sweet-smelling flower. Valerian grows four to five feet tall with masses of tiny, white flowers perched atop the stately plant. Although the blooms last only a few weeks during the season, its brief stay is marked by exceptional fragrance.
With so many options the only thing you can do is try them all to see what you like the best!