Nothing can conjure up a memory like a certain fragrance. Maybe it's the smell of pine needles in the sun that makes you recall a family vacation. Perhaps it's the perfume that only your grandmother wore. Campfire smoke, salty ocean air, the lemon soap from your grade school, all of these fragrances can bring even the most long-forgotten and obscure memories to mind.
This certainly applies to fragrance from the plants in our gardens as well. Whether we want to reproduce the scents of our childhood gardens, or simply create a new sensory experience, there are many plants with fragrant leaves and flowers to enjoy. We all know that roses and lilies smell amazing, but here is a collection of annuals, perennials, and shrubs you may not be as familiar with and which will bring unique and evocative fragrances to your garden throughout the year.
Clematis armandii 'Snowdrift'
This evergreen vine produces a mass of large, white, star-shaped flowers. The scent is heavenly and the plant is easy to grow and very hardy. One of the first early spring flowerers.
More commonly known as Lily of the Valley, this tiny plant has very fragrant flowers that are either white or light pink and are great for cut flowers. Their fragrance is so intense it seems unreal that they come from such a small flower. Blooms in early to mid-spring.
Viburnum Carlesii, or Korean Spice Viburnum, are exceptionally hardy, easy to grow and can tolerate some drastic pruning. In late March or April, small pink buds open to white flowers that have an intensely spicy fragrance.
Also called Western Mock Orange, it is native to the NW and has lovely white flowers that smell like citrus and jasmine flowers mixed together. This deciduous shrub grows quickly requiring little maintenance. Single-flowered types attract butterflies!
Sometimes called Japanese Mock Orange, it has a deep perfume-like scent appearing from flowers you can barely see. Some flowers are white, dark ivory or nearly black, depending on the variety. Shrubs are evergreen and flowers bloom in late spring.
Sometimes called the tobacco plant, the annual variety 'Fragrant Cloud' produces a fantastically warm vanilla fragrance. The white, star-shaped flowers are most fragrant in the evenings. Nicotiana loves the sun and grows about 24” tall.
A delightful annual ideal for hanging baskets and planters. Two varieties in particular 'Compact Innocence' (below, left) and 'Opal Innocence' (below, right) have a sweet sugary fragrance that grows stronger with the day’s heat. The flowers look like very small snapdragons. 'Compact Innocence' is pure white whereas 'Opal Innocence' is white with a purplish, iridescent hue. They both bloom from spring until fall.
Datura & Brugmansia
These two closely related annual tropical plants have dramatic trumpet-shaped flowers and a light spicy fragrance. Datura generally puts forth 1 to 3 upright flowers at a time on a short stem. Brugmansia (seen below) grows into a tree-like structure with dozens of flowers hanging down like bells.
Varieties as 'Stained Glass,' 'Fragrant Bouquet' (below, left), 'Hadspen Blue' (below, right), 'Thunderbolt,' 'So Sweet,' 'Guacamole,' and 'Fragrant Queen' (below, center) have a tall flower spike mid-summer with white or lavender lily shaped flowers that smell very much like lilies. The leaf patterns vary by variety and are perfect for bringing brightness and fragrance to shady areas.
Editor's Note: Stay tuned for Part 2: Fall & Winter!