In the Garden:
Lower South
May, 2012
Regional Report

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The bloom spikes of almond verbena shrubs are filled with small white flowers that pack a big fragrance that fills the air.

Plants That Make Scents

Fragrant plants make scents. (Sorry, I couldn't resist that.) We choose plants for many different attributes including colorful blooms and foliage, heat tolerance, attractiveness to butterflies and hummingbirds, or for their fragrance.

I am particularly fond of fragrant plants. Although fragrance is often mentioned when a plant is described, I think that it is under-appreciated. Fragrance is seldom given much consideration when planning a landscape. In addition to choosing color combinations that are attractive to the eye, why not also let your nose choose a few plants?

Fragrant plants add a wonderful dimension to an outdoor area. There are many different fragrances available in the plant world. As with perfume or air freshener, people will not all share the same preferences when it comes to the scent of flowers, or in the case of some plants, fragrant foliage. There are many wonderfully scented plants so everyone can find several that are especially appealing to them.

One of my favorites is white butterfly ginger (Hedychium coronarium). While not the only fragrant ginger, white butterfly fills the air with a wonderful aroma that is reminiscent of gardenias, another deliciously fragrant plant. When one of our children was born I brought a bloom in a vase to the hospital. After a while the scent wafted out of the room and into the hallway attracting a parade of hospital staff asking about the source of the alluring fragrance.

Many annual and perennial plants offer fragrant blooms. Note that some are most fragrant in their original forms, so when choosing among improved cultivars make sure you are getting one that still has strong fragrant appeal. Sweet peas and petunias are examples of flowers that can offer fragrance if you choose the right cultivars. Nicotiana or flowering tobacco has several fragrant forms. Dianthus and stock are good choices for a fragrant container planting. Tuberose has an amazing fragrance from its small bloom spikes. Four o'clocks (Mirabilis jalapa) offer their fragrant blooms late in the day, hence their name.

Several vines add their pleasing aromas to the landscape. Confederate jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides) and sweet autumn clematis (Clematis ternifolia) are long time southern favorites. Shrubs for fragrant blooms include Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica), butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii), sweet olive (Osmanthus fragrans), and banana shrub (Michelia figo), whose blooms do indeed smell like bananas!

Citrus blooms are a must-have plant in the southern landscape. If you live too far north to plant a Satsuma or kumquat in the ground, then put one in a large container so it can be moved into a protected location when a hard freeze threatens. Meyer lemons and Mexican limes also make good container plants.

Many plants are especially fragrant in the evening and night time hours, including nightblooming jessamine (Cestrum nocturnum) and angel's trumpet (Brugmansia sp.).

When we think of fragrance, flowers are the first thing that come to mind, yet some plants offer foliage that is fragrant, especially when you brush by on your way about the garden. I can't pass a rosemary plant without reaching down to pass a hand around a branch for a fragrant sampling. Mint is equally irresistible. If you could attribute volume to plant scent, then copper canyon daisy has foliage that shouts out a pine/citrus aroma that some love and others find overwhelming.

I like to plant fragrant plants in containers set about an outdoor patio or deck, in the ground near an outdoor sitting area, or along a garden path where the fragrance can be enjoyed up close. Consider the prevailing wind direction when locating your plants so you can place them where the aroma wafts in your direction whenever possible.

These are just a few of the many great fragrant southern plants. Visit my blog and share some others that are personal favorites of yours.


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