Years ago, I rented an old farmhouse in rural New Hampshire that was encircled in antique peonies of every color. Each June, I’d open the windows and the slightest breeze would carry that wonderful rose-like scent all through the house. I’d pick dozens of them and place them all over the house. I couldn’t get enough. I was in love.
Fragrance is something gardeners have always valued, in terms of both variety and continuity throughout the growing season: lilacs and daffodils in spring, peonies and roses in summer, and fragrant asters and herbs in autumn. Three-season fragrance is something I’d like to achieve in my own home garden now. I have some sweet relics of an old garden – some peonies and lilacs and lily of the valley – but I could use a few more fragrant plants to round out a full season.
With a little help from old gardening encyclopedias, I’ve come up with a list of possibilities. Keep in mind that all those listed are native plants. Many hybrids of these plants have been bred to emphasize color or shape over scent, so they might not be as fragrant as native specimens. So, if you’re going for scent, go for the most native plants you can find.
snowdrop ~ daffodil ~ jonquil ~ poet’s narcissi ~ crocus imperati ~ grape hyacinth ~ some early tulips ~ wallflowers ~ primrose ~ cowslip ~ arabis ~ lily of the valley ~ flowering shrubs including daphne mezercum, lonicera fragrantissimo, flowering currant, magnolia stellata, azaelas, corylopsis, english hawthorn, carolina allspice ~ later flowering shrubs and vines including mock oranges, lilacs, wisteria, clematis montana
rose ~ iris ~ peony ~ heliotrope ~ fraxinella ~ pinks ~ hardy carnations ~ lilium candidum ~ clematis recta ~ clematis liguisticifolia ~ tall phlox ~ lilium regale ~ white plaintain lily ~ campanula lactiflora ~ meadowsweet ~ many annuals such as heliotrope, sweet alyssum, sweet pea, sweet sultan, sweet scabious, mignonette, four o’clock, stock, snapdragon, verbena, petunia, abronia, lupine, candytuft, datura, marigold, tansy, calendula, crysanthemum ~ summer flowering trees and shrubs including clethra alnifolia, magnolia virginiana, elaeagnus angustifoloia ~ climbers include pios tuberosa, honeysuckle, moonflower and clematis paniculuta
aromatic aster ~ chrysanthemum ~ late flowering bulbs including lycoris squamigera, crocus longiflorus, colchicum speciosum ~ plants and shrubs with fragrant leaves including sweet geranium, lemon verbena, bergamot, mint, thyme, southernwood, artemesia, lavender, rosemary, sweet marjoram, sweet basil, tansey, savory, costmary, balm, nepeta, camomile, feverfew, yarrow, micromeria, hyssop, rue, bayberry, sassafras, and sweetbrier
Garden Spotter photos (top to bottom: lily-of-the-valley, lilac, verbena and gladioli, monarda)