Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Fragrant Garden: My Top 10

The longer I do this gardening thing, the more I realize that as far as my aspirations to my "perfect garden," the smell of my garden is right up there with what it looks like.  I truly am trying to achieve a garden where you would recognize exactly where you were by scent alone if you were blindfolded, bound and gagged and brought to my house by kidnappers.  Of course, I would call the police if I wasn't kidnapped myself (or unless I had lost my mind and was the perpetrator!), but you, thanks to the smell, would be able to tell them exactly where they were hiding us once you wriggled one hand free enough to dial 911 on your cell.

But seriously, I want it to be year 'round.  I want my nose to sing with "verdant and alive" wafting through the air.

Now I have found that you need to time "layer" the scent makers, because many only bloom once a year.  Here's what I've found so far to be the most magnificent in the megawatt smell per square inch of plant, as well as the bloom time in my garden (z9a).  I'm talking wafting knock your socks off scent when you step out in the humid dusky air:

10) Oriental Lilies (May-June): These are common, we've all seen them, but I'm eagerly awaiting this guy pictured below to bloom none the less...will be any day now.

9) Pittosporum (March): A nice, almost non-descript large dense bush or small tree, it is often used for hedges.  Once a year in March usually, all of the sudden it is literally covered head to toe in tiny fragrant blooms which may be my favorite scent of the lot here.  They are called mock-orange, and though its sort of similar, it's really not.  They have a to-die-for fragrance.  Unfortunately, at least here, some years a heat wave will come in an make the blooms very short lived.  Even at their best they don't last more the 2-3 weeks.  But when they are out...

8) Wisteria (Late Feb-early March): I don't grow this myself, but it has practically eaten the south, so its everywhere.  It's what we hide our broken down vehicles and dilapidated roadside houses with.  It is the earliest seriously scented bloomer on the scene.

7) Honeysuckle (May-Sept): The scent of my childhood.  The dirt road our house was on was literally lined with these tangled in the bushes and its just such a sweet wonderful smell.  I know its invasive in some climates (like probably where I grew up come to think about it), but here it stays pretty much in check, at least compared to some of our other invasives.

6) Ligustrum (April): The bush we love to hate, it does have a redeeming quality and that it is a profuse bloomer with knock your socks off scent for nearly a month during the year.  It blooms here at the same time as another super fragrant flower too, so the month of April in my garden is almost overwhelming day and night.

5) Gardenia (May): I take it back on the pittosporum, the gardenia scent is probably my absolute favorite.  They don't waft quite as much though which takes it down a few notches, however still enough to smell it as you approach a bush without leaning down.

4) Brugmansia (June-Sept): This potentially deadly small tree is one of those that tries to attract pollinators at night, so it nearly bowls you over should you step outside after dark.  Its a cloying heady smell, very pleasant to me, but I have caught myself thinking that its the kind of scent that reminds you of an evil temptress.

3) Moon Vine (June-Sept): A true night bloomer, and a relative of the morning glory, I have smelled them in others gardens but this will be its first year in mine.

2) Confederate Jasmine (Late March-April): Until I planted #1, this was by far and away the most megawatt smelling dude in my garden.  I often hear people say that jasmine smells like gardenia and I honestly can't see how or why they would think that?  Jasmine to me has a peppery heavy sweetness, whereas gardenia is lighter and fruiter...well just not in the same nasal ballpark.  Anyhow, this variety is a ever-green vining plant which looks great in or out of bloom.  Non-invasive, which is a plus though they can grow extremely large, as mine has in 2.5 years.

1) Night Blooming Jasmine (May-Aug): This thing is ridiculous.  You need to plant it at least 30 feet from your house to be able to not get drunk on the scent.  It blooms on and off through the summer, and you can smell it down the block. I'm not kidding. Its nothing much to look at, a loose medium sized sprawly bush, but thats not the point.

There are so many others that can come tripping off my tongue that don't readily grow here so I didn't include them: Lilacs, Lavender, Hyacinths to name but a few.  Another one of my favorite of all garden smells comes from leaves, not flowers: the English Boxwood.  It just smells so, boxwoody to me.  I love it and it reminds me, every time I smell it, of the boxwood maze behind the old library in the small town where I grew up.

Also, there are all kinds of jasmine out there that can fight amongst themselves for the most fragrant plant ever.  I am considering getting the pink kind (Winter Jasmine), because it blooms in early March, before the others, but it is on the invasive list, and so far every time I've planted something invasive in this climate, it has, um, invaded.

You notice I didn't include the roses!  While many do have a lovely fragrance, they are not massive wafters on the whole.  Not a single rose I have compares with any of the above as far as megatwattage of scent making capacity, though I do obviously prefer those roses that smell.


  1. some of my favorites, great selection. Planted my first moon vine this year...fingers crossed for success

    Heading to Charleston next week for a quick day trip....can't wait to hit Hyam's. What are your favorite local greenhouses?

  2. thank you for the nursery recommendations! Going to check out Brownswood if time permits. Lived there years ago...loved Cross Seed, sad to see it go

  3. I think it might be a toss up for two plants I can only have as houseplants, Gardenia and Jasmine. I have a large Jasmine that is potted in my office and I just love that fragrance. I agree, a garden of fragrance cannot be beat. Lilac is filling the air here, and like you, know it is will only be here a short time, but other fragrant bloomers wait in the wings. The lily is not a fav of mine though. I cannot cut them for the house because the fragrance is overwhelming.

  4. Lovely collection! It's amazing how some plants connect us to certain times and places in our life!

  5. I love jasmine but cannot grow it here outdoors...honeysuckle evokes childhood memories and is one of my all time favs.

  6. I think there's something about the heat in the south that encourages scented plants or just holds the smell in a special way. I would be pretty hard pressed to come up with plants with such strong smells over such a long period. How lucky you are.

  7. Great post. My confederate jasmine was incredible this year. I also love the smell of ligustrum and sweet olive.

  8. I do hope someone kidnaps me to your garden soon so I can enjoy all the scent, it sounds really fascinating and I hope you can carry it off. I am sad roses didn't make it to your list though :(.

  9. I don't do flowers, but I've started work on a herbage, and I can't walk past without stroking them and sniffing my fingers.

    Oh, that sounds really bad, but you know what I mean. I'm hooked on thyme at the moment!

  10. I absolutely love fragrant flowers too - some of my favorites are daphne and clethra. Gardenia and jasmine too, although they only eke out an existence in a pot up north. I didn't realize wisteria was fragrant!

    Thanks for popping over to my blog with the info on BS and DA roses - I have been drooling over pictures of them for a while, but have heard such bad things about health that I'm wary. I'll definitely give some of your suggestions a try!

  11. I love honeysuckle and have it growing out of a pot by the back door so I can enjoy its fragrance as well as on a fence (wild honeysuckle). But interpretation of fragrance can be so individual. I think pittosporum smells weird. BTW, I'm volunteering to be kidnapped to your place pronto! :o)

  12. Because I know you like white flowers, here's a fragrant suggestion: I bought a white petunia called a Supertunia (which I keep thinking of as a Supertuna) that is very fragrant. It smells a bit like a lily. :o)

  13. You have included some of my favorites! Moonvine should also make the most romantic flowers list. One I haven't tried is brugmansia, though I have been thinking about planting that one. Evil temptress sounds intriguing!

  14. Nice post. It encourages me to plant more scented flowers too, especially on the patio where they could be enjoyed more often. I do have three varieties of jasmine that I love!

  15. I agree with everything you listed, but gasp you forget the infamous Southern Magnolia!

    I understand why you didn't list roses, compared to the other scents they really can't compare with how strong the fragrance of the above listed are. I have lived in several different States (including Florida)and I can say South Carolina is the most fragrant State I have ever been in.

    Love your posts!

  16. I've long had a dream of having a fragrant garden outside my bedroom so that the lovely perfume of fragrant flowers would waft in through open windows during the night. But so far my attempts at enacting this dream have failed. Reading your list of plants made me realize one of my big mistakes: I need to focus on night-blooming flowers! (Duh!). Thanks, Jess. -Jean

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  18. I'm a very visual person, and I've only really started to think about fragrance in the garden recently. The most "wafting" fragrant plants I grow are Philadelphus, Honeysuckle and "Erlicheer" jonquils, but I'm planning to add more scented plants, so thanks for the suggestions. At least some of them should be able to grow here, although our winters are cooler than yours.