Aromatic Picks for the Garden

03 Mar 2022

Botanical fragrances can add fresh dimension to your backyard retreat

Story and Photos by Christine Hall

One of the things I look forward to most in the spring is returning to the garden. When the earth restarts its growth of bulbs, blooms, and shoots, its botanical fragrances help me to relax and unwind. Scents of honeysuckle and wisteria waft through our streets and neighborhoods as buds awaken. Gardenia and oleander burst into parades of perfume that beg wanderers to pause. Each of these florals tend to transport my senses to a pleasant place and time.

While many gardeners plant for visual delight or practical purpose, there is a potent case for incorporating pleasing aromas into your natural surroundings as well. It can boost your mood, trigger fond memories, or simply evoke relaxation. The scents one favors outdoors are as subjective as the perfumes one chooses to wear. Do you favor sweet florals or herbal musk? Fruity or earthy aromas? No two noses are alike.

When planting flowers or shrubs for their scent, it is helpful to keep in mind that some plants are lightly scented and, therefore, are most appreciated up close. Other plants produce aromas that permeate entire yards. Choose the wrong ones and you could face offending your olfactory. But never fear – with a little forethought, you can be well on your way to creating your own pleasantly-perfumed oasis.

Options to consider:

1) Oleander

Oleander is prized for its abundance of funnel-shaped, fragrant blooms and evergreen, glossy-dark leaves. Commonly referred to as rosebay or rose laurel, the Nerium oleander performs well in coastal soils and is tolerant of salt spray, heat, and drought. Many varieties bloom from late spring into early fall, offering an apricot-like scent to the air. The Nerium oleander can grow from 6 to 15 feet tall depending on conditions and is well-suited for screening, use as hedges, or as a standalone specimen.  Although oleander is a low-maintenance choice for the landscape, take caution when planting. Every part of the plant is toxic if ingested.

Varieties to seek: Nerium oleander ‘Hardy Pink’, 'Mathilde Ferrier' double yellow, or ‘White Sands’ dwarf white

2) Gardenia

The Gardenia is a quintessential “Flower of the South.” Its intoxicating scent is hands-down my favorite garden fragrance. The evergreen shrub does not come into full bloom until the early days of summer – but it is worth the wait. Gardenia jasminoides, also referred to as ‘Cape Jasmine’ boasts silver-gray bark and smooth, glossy leaves, which provide an elegant backdrop for its white, pinwheel-shaped blooms. Plant gardenias in a well-protected area with partial-to-full shade and indirect light for best success.

Varieties to seek: ‘Jubulation’, ‘Crown Jewel’, or 'Veitchii'

3) Passionflower

Noted for its intricately-shaped floral crowns and tropical-looking foliage, the family of plants known as Passiflora offers species of plants that bear exotic-looking – and pleasant smelling – fringed flowers. Commonly referred to as Maypop for the loud popping noise the fruit from the vine makes when stepped on, Passiflora incarnata’s egg-shaped fruit can be enjoyed by humans and wildlife alike. This native, woody perennial grows readily in Zones 5-9, is amenable to full sun to part shade, and blooms all summerlong. It is an attractive choice for an arbor, trellis, or pergola where its tendrils can cling, and bursts of flowers and perfume can be enjoyed. The plant is highly flammable, however, so steer clear of locations adjacent to an outdoor grill or heat source.

Varieties to seek: Passiflora mooreana (one of the most fragrant), Passiflora incarnata (blooms then bears fruit).

Side bonus: Passionvine offers added value to the garden by providing nectar for pollinators, acting as a larval host plant for several species of butterflies, and offering wildlife a natural food source with its fruit.

Incorporating fragrance strategically in your home garden can bring a new level of comfort and dimension to your surroundings. With a handful of thoughtfully selected plants, your garden can blossom into a wonderful retreat.

Local Resources:

The Transplated Garden
502 S 16th St, Wilmington

Farmers Supply Company
2025 Oleander Dr, Wilmington  

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