The other day I picked up several Rhododendron viscosum (aka swamp azalea or swamp honeysuckle) at a local nursery for a planting job. I was in such a rush, I packed them in, not paying much attention to the flowers that were just beginning to pop. As I drove along, a sweet smell drifted toward the front of the car - a welcome change from the usual odor of fertilizer that permeates my car during planting season.
I planted this native deciduous shrub on another job years ago, remembering that it flowers well in wet shady sites. I had forgetten that it's worth having for the smell alone, which is reminiscent of honeysuckle.
It all got me to thinking about the power of fragrance. Smells define the personality of the garden and etch their way into your memory bank. The aroma of petunias and nicotiana still take me straight back to happy childhood days in my grandmothers garden.
Spurred on by these memories, I've developed my own mix of aromatic plants. If I could bottle up the smell of summer in a bottle, I'd start with Lonicera periclymenum 'Graham Thomas.' This fast growing honeysuckle is one of the major players in my front entrance garden. Location is a key point here. It's the first thing I notice on my way to the front door and the last thing I take in at the end of the day when it's sweetly seductive odor intensifies. Not only does it smell heavenly, pollinators love it. Bees and hummingbirds flock to it, drinking the nectar from the pale yellow tubular flowers.
Next on my list is Styrax (Japanese snowbell). They're all fragrant, but subtly so. The fragrance is most effective if you plant them in a spot you like to sit in. I first planted Styrax japonica 'Pink Chimes' (Japanese snowbell) in a container at the entrance of my garden - you can read more about it here.
I did stop to smell it as I went by, but at the end of last summer I decided to put it in a spot I could enjoy it at a closer range. I relocated it to the back garden where I can get a noseful of the slightly sweet aroma while drinking my morning coffee. Because of the name, I expected the flowers to be pinker, but they look pretty white don't they? No matter, this small tree is covered with hundreds of sweet smelling bell shaped flowers. The dark purplish foliage rocks.
Nicotiana's are on my list too, but they have come a long way since my grandmother's day. A couple of years ago, I discovered this little gem - Nicotiana x sanderae 'Cranberry Isles.' This is an annual I wouldn't be without! In the evening, it emanates a sweet perfumy aroma from a multi-colored array of pink, white and lavender flowers. This little gem looks delicate, but it's quite sturdy and easy to grow. And it's tall - about 3-4'. I have planted it in sun and partial shade, but think it's best in a little bit of shade. Flowers are abundant either way, but burn out quickly when planted in the hot sun.
Here is a close up of the flowers. You can buy seeds or plants from Select Seeds. Nicotianas are easy to start, in fact, they often reseed in my garden.
Wherever you decide to plant them, mass enough of them together (6 or more) to intensify the smell.
Nicotiana sylvestris (aka flowering tobacco) is an old fashioned variety I consider a mainstay of any fragrant garden. Check out the big droopy flowers and enormous leaves (top right). It's certainly a showstopping plant that makes a garden come alive in early evening.
It's worth planting Calamintha nepatoides 'White Cloud' just to get a whiff of the pepperminty smell it emits when you brush the foliage. The frothy white flowers bloom late into summer, I have to bat the bees out of the way - they love them.
Nicotiana sylvestris (top right)
Calamintha nepatoides 'White Cloud' (lower left)
It wouldn't be summer without the sweet smell of Phlox and the spicey aroma of Bee Balm. This combination makes me long for hot summer days spent in my friend Bonnie's back door garden. And at the end of the day, that's the best gift of summer.
What are your favorite fragrant plants? Please share!
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