Brilliant colour, florid bloom, exotic foliage: all of these are important to the garden. But garden scents can stimulate an explosion of the senses, creating haunting flashbacks or setting the stage for future memories.
Today, sadly, many hybrid plants have lost much of their original fragrance. Although lately breeders are working to create plants that once again spark olfactory pleasure. Still, some plants continue to have a powerful impact. Take stargazer lilies as an example. Their fragrance can be so heady as to create an instant headache in scent-sensitive people. Beware using these as cut flowers in an enclosed space unless you know your friends are immune. Freesia, hyacinths and daffodils (especially paperwhites) can be just as cloying.
Outdoors, where the air dilutes the stronger perfume, the scented garden is a joy. Dusk ushers in the romantic scent of some petunias (Petunia hybrida, ‘Mitchell’), which seem to be time sensitive. Pulsing out perfume until dawn and staying virtually scent free during the day.
Where the scents come from
Chemically, scent in flowers comes from a combination of an acid and alcohol, which produces essential oils, often manufactured at the base of the hairs, called trichomes, that occur on all parts of a plant. The scent is transmitted though the alcohol component.
It is hard to describe fragrance. We often rely on items that seem to embody it such as lemon, rose, violet, vanilla, jasmine, pine, or eucalyptus, but scents are elusive and are received differently by each person.
Many scented plants bloom at night and are in the night hours pollinated by moths. These night blooming flowers are often white so that in addition to perfuming the air, they lend a ghostly brilliance to the moonlit garden. And remember, many flowering shrubs are very fragrant – just think about mock orange (Philadelphus) or lilac (Syringa).
Plant scented flowers in a place where the prevailing breezes will waft their perfume toward your favourite seating place or where you will brush them as you walk by, releasing their delicious odours.
For a list of 87 aromatic plants, click here.