Plant hyacinths near your house so you can enjoy their fragrance more frequently. Shutterstock

One of the most wonderful things about gardens that people sometimes forget is their fragrance. You can’t take photographs of it or share it on the internet, and it seldom shows up from a distance.

Still, it is one of the reasons a slow walk through your gardens is enjoyable, whether it is a garden intended for flowers or for growing food.

The purpose of the heady aromas of plants is not just to please humans. The volatile compounds – the scientific source for the aromas – are intended both to attract pollinators and to repel harmful insects, according to research by Purdue University.

The fragrance isn’t just in the flowers, although they are what many gardeners, including me, think of first. In many herbs, the fragrance comes from the leaves and is part of the reason they are used in our cooking.

Tomato leaves also have a strong fragrance, designed to repel predatory insects. The leaves are not strictly poisonous, although people would not find them tasty.

Many gardeners do, and all gardeners should, consider fragrance when deciding what to plant and where to plant it.

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Hyacinth is a perfect example. Hyacinths are among the more popular fall-planted and spring-blooming bulbs, and usually show up in spring shortly after crocuses and iris reticulata but before daffodils and tuilps. We always plant some hyacinths right next to the main entrance to our house, as much for the aroma as for the early-season color. And many years, we put them in containers to chill and bring them indoors for fragrant beauty in February and March.

Many people think of roses as sweet-smelling flowers, influenced by Shakespeare’s Juliet saying, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

Many new roses don’t have the fragrance of the heirloom roses that many of us remember growing up. Two of the most fragrant roses have restrictions. Multiflora roses are on the do-not-sell list and should be removed if possible. Rosa Rugosa has rules saying it shouldn’t be planted near water.

For roses without restrictions, breeders are going for blossoms that are larger and last longer, and fragrance is often lost while seeking that attribute. Most catalogs and plant labels will include information about a rose’s fragrance.

Gardens are known for their aromas – for some people, even the fragrance of a just-mowed lawn is a pleasure. Here are some of the best options for a pleasantly fragrant garden.

Anise hyssop, a U.S.-native perennial that is highly fragrant with edible flowers, belongs in any garden. We grow it near the entrance to our vegetable garden, and it is a reliable bloomer that will grow about 3 feet tall. It is a member of the mint family, also edible.

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Actually, a lot of herbs double as ornamental and edible plants. They include parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme – which I always write in that order because I love Simon and Garfunkel – as well as peppermint, bee balm, dill, basil, lavender and fennel.

Other fragrant perennials include lemon lily, a vintage daylily (and there are other fragrant day lilies available – read the tags in your local nursery); heliotrope; many dianthus, also called pinks; and daffodils, especially the older varieties like the ones we call jonquils that came from my wife Nancy’s grandmother.

Old-fashioned lilies, which we still attempt to grow despite the lily-leaf beetle, are highly fragrant as well as being beautiful. Lily of the valley, which despite its name is not a lily, is also highly fragrant. It is a ground cover from Europe with the botanical name Convallaria Majalis, with tiny bell-shaped blossoms. At our house, we pick them each year and put them in vintage bottle that once held ink.

I was surprised that one native plant that we grow in several parts of our garden made the fragrance list – Solomon’s seal, Polygonatum odoratum. Its blossoms hang from the stems, and the plants thrive under our oak trees. I guess I never stopped to smell them.

Also, don’t forget some fragrant shrubs.

Lilacs are a classic garden shrub that you can smell from yards away. Summersweet, or Clethra alnifolia, as its name says, is wonderfully fragrant, as are quince and some rhododendrons, azaleas and viburnums.

I enjoy wandering through our property at night because, not being distracted by the beauty of the the plants’ colors and shapes, I more fully enjoy the aroma.


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