It has been an absolute treat to open the windows and let the fresh air back into the house these past few weeks. I can practically hear the furnishings take a deep long breath as they enjoy the same rejuvenation we all feel as the seasons change.
We can make it even better when we add fragrant flowers to our gardens. They can enhance the surrounding scents, especially flanking walkways and entry areas we often pass.
Sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritima) gets its common name precisely from its fragrance. At only 6 to 10 inches tall and 12 inches wide, it’s super easy to grow. Alyssum is not fussy about soil and requires full sun to partial shade and average soil. It will flower for you from early spring to fall in white, purple or lavender. Sweet alyssum looks great in containers, in vegetable gardens, as a border, just about anywhere. A nice feature of this plant is the beneficial insect it draws whose larvae eats aphids, a destructive pest of other plants. Cool, huh?
Got a spot in full sun with crummy soil, exposed to deer, and on the dry side? Try lavender. Even as an annual, lavender smells great, and thrives on neglect. You can pot it up and almost forget about it and it will still emit its fabulous fragrance while it draws pollinators.
If you love the aroma of vanilla, look for annual heliotrope (Heliotropium aborescens) ‘Fragrant Delight’. At 12 to 18 inches tall and wide, you can add this deep purple beauty to your containers, beds, and borders. Heliotrope will flower in the sun from late spring until frost knocks it down. It will be happiest if you don’t cook it in the hot afternoon sun.
An absolute must is evening scented Nicotiana, better known as flowering tobacco. You can get seed for the sun-loving 12 inch tall ‘Deep Purple Perfume’ that will flower this year. Note that it was an All America Selections annual award winner in 2006. For a taller plant, look for Nicotiana sylvestris, sometimes called “white shooting stars.” The typical tubular shape of the flower rises 3-5 feet tall in a white cluster that is exceptionally fragrant in the evening. In the daylight, you’ll be able to enjoy watching the butterflies and hummingbirds that come to it. Nicotiana has a habit of self sowing so don’t be too anxious next spring to do early weeding. Those babies could be new plants!
If you have grown fragrant garden phlox (Phlox paniculata) in the past and gave up on it because of unsightly powdery mildew, you can bring it back into your garden. There are now many options resistant to this foliar condition. I have had “Glamour Girl” in my garden for over 5 years without a speck of powdery mildew. Further, the Chicago Botanic Garden conducted an extensive 9 year study available at https://www.chicagobotanic.org/downloads/planteval_notes/no35_phloxpaniculata.pdf. The study highlighted many improved options. “Shortwood” is just one of them.
The best news is that today’s phlox comes in several varieties: short, medium and tall with foliage in solid green, variegated like “Nora Leigh” or chartreuse. The only thing you have to do is decide which fit your garden design.
For a part shade garden that might be a little wet, think about adding the native shrub, Summersweet (Clethra alnifolia). The white or pink flowers (depending on the one you choose) come in mid to late summer in versions from two to eight feet tall so you can get just the right size for your shade to part shade garden. Deer usually avoid it while bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies can’t resist the bottlebrush flowers.
The last fragrance to tempt you is like an after dinner dessert: chocolate cosmos (Cosmos atrosanguineus). This one comes into its own in midsummer and needs room to stretch up to its height of 1 to 3 feet. You must give it full sun in average soil, never dry. The flowers are a unique reddish brown with a light vanilla scent. Two things will coax the fragrance from this plant: warm summer temps and several grouped together: onesies and twosies won’t make that delicious fragrance happen.
Be sure to add some Coast of Maine Penobscot Blend Organic Planting Mix when you put these plants in to get them off to a good start. Then enjoy the transformation of your garden from ordinary to pleasurable and enchanting as you give your eyes and nose a treat.
Written by Lorraine Ballato, author of Success With Hydrangeas, A Gardener’s Guide