The scent of a garden awakens our awareness, stimulates us to breathe deep, and lifts our heads to seek its source. Without thinking, we are drawn to bury our noses in flowers. Fragrance elicits emotions and evokes memories. Yet, seduced by the visual attributes of many new plant varietiesshowy flowers, novel leaves, and tidy habitswe may unwittingly sacrifice the unseen beauty of fragrance. When we follow the traditional wisdom of also selecting plants for their fragrance, we can imbibe natures intoxicating perfumes and revitalizing aromatics from spring until fall as we walk through our busy days and relax at the days end.
Heady scents fill the soft breezes of spring. The smell of hyacinth drifts up the walk to all who pass its fragrant flowers. Narcissus and daffodils brighten cold, crisp mornings and have a delicate scent that demands a closer encounter to enjoy. Lily of the valley, a shade ground cover famous for its perfume, may spark memories of May Day baskets shared with friends and family. Blooming later in May, woods phloxs fragrant, clear-blue flowers are an excellent complement for late tulips.
As spring unfolds, so too do the blossoms of our most fragrant shrubs. Starting with an evergreen to plant next to the door, the clear, fresh fragrance of boxwoods insignificant flowers is a delightful surprise. Spring is truly here with the heavenly scent of native plums. Because of its wild habit, its best planted at the back of the yard. The heavy perfume of lilacs may be tied forever to Mothers Day. Blooming at the same time, the complex fragrance of Korean spice viburnum is also noteworthy. Plant them near windows on different sides of the house so their heady scents can waft without competing or being overwhelming.
If you walk through the University of WisconsinMadison arboretum to see lilacs and crabapples in bloom, remember to stop and inhale the light-scented crabapple blossoms. Though you may not see its tiny flowers, its hard to miss the intoxicating fragrance of linden trees that smell like honey and lime as you walk by. Old-fashion roses, iris, and peonies are prized as much for their fragrance as for their flowers. Their scents bring back memories of a grandmothers garden in June: purple German iris that smell like grape jelly, cascades of citrus-scented mock orange blossoms, and roses perfume in the morning air.
Fragrant members of the lily family dominate the summer scents. Royal standard and honeybells are surprisingly fragrant hostas for the shade. Oriental lilies, stargazers, and Casa Blanca are cherished for their scent. Rarer, tall, stately trumpet lilies have a lighter lemony fragrance. Newer Orienpet (OT) lilies are hybrids that combine the best attributes of the Oriental and trumpet lilies. They are shorter in stature and more varied in colors with outward-facing flowers that smell delicious. Planted by the walkway to my home, fragrant lilies and daylilies welcome guests to the door through much of the summer.
From summer through fall, fragrance adds magic to a summer evening and spice to the heat of the day. The fresh scent of pines and cedars gather with the dusk. Sweet smelling Datura and Nicociana sylvestris are annuals with white flowers that glow in the moonlight while releasing a lovely perfume into the night air. The exotic fragrance of jasmine and gardenias planted in containers around the patio or deck is a treat that may help you unwind. Many aromatic herbs give off scents on warm summer days. Nepeta, calamintha, and other members of the minty family release refreshing oils into the air as you brush against them. Crush their leaves in your hands and hold them to your nose for instant aroma therapy.
Even in October, the scent of the garden may bring back memories of walks in the woods and playing in leaves. Hay scent of prairie dropseed may turn your head as you pass by, while native fall-blooming witch hazel may stop you in your tracks with its surprisingly late and delicately scented flowers.
The scent of a garden can arouse passion, soothe anxiety, elicit a smile, refresh, and intoxicate. Changing from day to day and from morning to night, flowers and their fragrance mark special occasions and tie us to some of our fondest memories. Enjoy plants unseen beauty and magic. Take a moment to stop, breathe deep, and smell the flowers.
Joan W. Ziegler is a horticulturist and garden designer and winner of the 2015 Perennial Plant Association Merit Award for Residential Landscape Design for ZDA, Inc. Landscape Architecture, 4797 Capitol View Road, Middleton. Call (608) 831-5098 or visit zdainc.com .