By: Lisa Briggs | May 14th, 2019
The sense of smell is amazingly underrated. An aroma can bring pleasure or alert you to danger. You can sniff out the truth. My absolute favorite is that scent created by a summer rainstorm drenching the pavement and soil on a warm day. There’s even a word for it – petrichor.
Fragrances trigger memories as well. Have you noticed an aroma and suddenly remembered an event that you’d long forgotten? Or, consider how certain perfumes remind you of people in your life. These are examples of the connection between olfaction and memory. Researchers have found that odor-evoked memories may seem clearer or more intense than others because they appear to be more emotional than memories triggered by visual, audio or other cues.
Often these trigger scents are floral. Offer a blossom and the recipient will immediately put it under their nose. The truth is that flowers aren’t releasing fragrance for our enjoyment. They are trying to attract pollinators. Sweeter fragrances beckon to bees and butterflies and the more pungent odors attract other insects. Some plants have strongly scented foliage that may repel insects. Humans have used all of these properties to protect themselves and their property.
When choosing a plant for fragrance, take care when deciding where to place it. A strong fragrance is lovely in small doses, but can become cloying. Put these in an area where the scent will drift over your yard. A plant that has scented foliage may only release the smell when the leaves are touched. So site these along a path.
For me, few flowers evoke the feeling of spring like the scent of peonies. Many lotions and manufactured fragrances have tried to copy that flower’s heady aroma. Some of the best varieties for sniffing include the old standbys like Sarah Bernhardt, a huge blush pink double, and Duchesse de Nemours which is creamy white.
One of the most seductive scents of summer comes from the Brugmansia. Tropical in origin, you must over-winter them indoors, but it’s worth it! Commonly called Angels’ Trumpets, Brugmansia grow six to eight feet high and put on a floral display you must see to believe. The flowers are 8-10 inch long trumpets of white, peach or saffron yellow and in the evening they emit the most delicious fragrance you can imagine. It’s sweet and tart at the same time.
One of my favorite, fragrant shrubs is Summersweet. This modestly-sized shrub blooms in mid-summer in spikes of white or pale pink flowers. Another common name for Clethra is Summer Lilac. They prefer cool, shady conditions and appreciate soil that is on the moist side, making it a good candidate for those darker spots not blessed with good drainage. It may suffer a bit of tip dieback in a cold winter, but once established, will fill out quickly. Ruby Spice has a fairly bright pink flower and Hummingbird blooms in cream.
A very old-fashioned favorite of my grandmother is the Mockorange. This shrub boasts lovely snow-white flower that open in early summer. Mockorange needs a full sun location and several years of establishment before it will set flower buds. But you will be rewarded on warm summer evenings when the perfume hangs in the air and the flowers glow in the twilight. Snow White Fantasy is a newer variety with fully double flowers and fringed petals.
If you have room enough for a tree, consider the Katsuratree. This magnificent plant’s lovely blue-green, heart-shaped leaves turn golden yellow to orange in the fall. They do require good irrigation for several years to establish, so you’ll need to water it regularly through any dry spells. The form and color are great, but I think it’s most attractive and evocative quality is the elusive fragrance. The fall foliage of Katsuratree emits an incredible aroma of cooked toffee and cinnamon. You might take a leaf and crush it, or rub the stems, but nothing happens as the scent is never released on command.
Gardens present us with wonderful opportunities to tickle our sense of smell. Fragrance adds a dimension that allows for a more languid pace and gives more meaning to the old phrase “stop and smell the roses”. And once you become aware of the vast number of scented plants, you may find yourself making more choices with your nose as often as you choose with your eyes!