sealPurdue News

May 1998

Your garden can be scentsational,
landscape expert says

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Fragrances are a part of spring. Newly sprouted vegetation. Rain-soaked soil. Perfumed blossoms. Scents that make you begin to think about your home landscape and how it will look this year.

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But wait a minute. Why should these fragrances make you think just about the visual impression your landscape will make? Why not plan aromatic gardens you can enjoy even if you're not looking at them?

"Many plants have a strong fragrance you can enjoy when you start to open windows to let in fresh spring air," says Bruno Moser, nursery and landscape specialist for the Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service and a professor of horticulture. "You routinely have scents around, like perfume, aftershave, potpourri and room deodorizer. Life is full of scents, but you often don't think of them in the landscape."

Plants produce essential oils, Moser explains. Some are in the flowers, and some are in the leaves. When the weather warms, the oils evaporate into the air, resulting in a fragrance. Aromatic foliage, however, must be crushed for the scent to escape. He says the scent from aromatic plants may be enjoyed while the plant is fresh, but once it's dried, much of the aroma is gone.

Moser recommends using fragrant plants under windows that'll be open; around patios, decks and porches; and along walkways. He says some people prefer to disperse aromatic plants around the yard and garden so they get a pleasant surprise when they come upon them. Others like to concentrate aromatic plants in one area for a stronger effect. He cautions that different scents may conflict and be overpowering, so care should be taken in selection.

"When you buy aromatic plants, buy them in bloom so you know what you're getting," he suggests. "Or visit a botanical garden, a neighbor's garden or a garden center. Smell for the ones you like. Everybody's sense of smell is different. What may be appealing to one person may be overpowering to others."

Also, he says, some varieties of a plant may not be as fragrant as others, so it may be helpful to talk to someone with horticultural expertise to avoid the disappointment of purchasing the wrong one.

Aromatic plants come in many sizes, shapes and colors, according to Moser. Some of his favorites include:

Spring-flowering bulbs

  • Hyacinth -- early spring, different colors, 8 inches to 12 inches tall, sweet fragrance.
  • Narcissus (some) -- early spring; yellow, white and orange; 12 inches tall, sweet fragrance.
  • Regal lilies -- late spring, 36 inches tall, need staking, sweet fragrance.

Flowering Shrubs

  • Viburnum (many) -- carlesi hybrids, 5 feet tall and wide, spicy spring aroma.
  • French lilac-- white, pink, blue and purple; 8 feet to 10 feet; sweet spring aroma.
  • Summersweet -- clethera species, white or pink, 4 feet tall, sweet summer aroma.
  • Sweetbay magnolia -- white, 10 feet to 12 feet tall, sweet summer aroma.
  • Mock orange (some) -- 7 feet tall, white, sweet spring aroma.
  • Honeysuckle -- 7 feet tall, sweet spring aroma.

Flowering Vines

  • Honeysuckle -- woody, good for trellises and around windows, sweet aroma.
  • Autumn clematis -- good trellis vine, fragrant late summer blooms.
  • Climbing roses (some) -- woody, variety of colors and fragrances.

Flowering Groundcovers

  • Lily of the valley -- small white flowers, sweet fragrant spring bloomer.

Herbaceous Perennials

  • Hosta (some) -- fragrant white flowers.
  • Carnations and pinks -- most varieties very fragrant.
  • Peonies (some) -- fragrant flowers in several colors.

Annual Flowers

  • Sweet alyssum -- sweet fragrant white or purple flowers, low edging plant.
  • Stock -- upright flowers, sweet aroma, good cut flower.

Foliage Plants

  • Herbaceous perennials: mint, thyme, some artemesia -- low-growing, strong aromas when crushed.
  • Annuals: basil, scented geraniums -- numerous aromas depending on variety.
  • Shrubs: bayberry -- 3 feet to 4 feet tall, aromatic leaves and berries.
  • Evergreens: juniper -- distinctive juniper aroma, particularly upright forms.

Source: Bruno Moser, (765) 494-1352; e-mail,
Writer: Andrea McCann, (765) 494-8406; e-mail,
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail,

Lilacs are among the most fragrant flowering shrubs. Purdue landscape expert Bruno Moser suggests using aromatic plants when landscaping as a way to enjoy both the sights and smells of the foliage around your home. (Purdue News Service Photo by David Umberger)
Color photo, electronic transmission, and Web and ftp download available. Photo ID: Moser.aroma
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