Aromatic plants can positively influence our moods by offering us a sense of well-being.
From minty scented foliage to intoxicatingly aromatic florals, growing a fragrant garden creates a space where we can connect with nature by using our sense of smell to relax and refresh ourselves.
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The aroma of plants is expressed in various ways. For example, some herbs release their scent when you touch them, and some flowers emit a strong fragrance without touching them.
Then some botanicals require you to scratch or break them up to experience their aroma.
This is important to consider when you wish to design a garden full of scent without needing to manipulate or process the plants to experience them.
To help guide your fragrant garden planning, we’ll cover seasonal themes to consider along with some of the most potent-smelling plants and, of course, some must-haves to complement your scented garden.
Read on to be inspired and discover various annuals and perennials that will amplify the aroma of your garden.
What You’ll Learn
- How Can Plants Alter Our Mood?
- Consider Native Plants First
- A Seasonal Approach
- Planning and Design Tips
How Can Plants Alter Our Mood?
Aside from ingesting healing plants, we can experience how they affect our moods through our sense of smell.
Without these aromatic allies, aromatherapy would not exist!
These plants are used to produce essential oils, which are the primary tools in aromatherapy.
However, by solely experiencing the bottled essential oils, we lose the additional elements connected to the environment that contribute to a plant’s overall scent.
According to a 2022 study by Phoebe Bentley, Jessica Fisher, et. al. published in Ambio: A Journal of Environment and Society, nature-derived smells may positively affect physical well-being, specifically relaxation, comfort, and rejuvenation.
Along with featuring plants for their healing benefits, I also like to include ones that spark memories. For instance, I’ve planted sweet violets to remind me of my grandmother, who used to wear a perfume that smelled just like the flowers!
So, get creative and grow what makes you happy and brings you peace.
Consider Native Plants First
Taking our local ecosystems into consideration, there are a large number of native plant species that are highly aromatic!
Some of my favorites are native perennials that thrive in California, like Brickellia californica, Salvia apiana, Artemisia californica, and Rosa californica, to name just a few.
Also, after rain, the sagebrush smells amazing here! I enjoy hiking local trails, and this was one of the first native plants I wanted to include in our landscape to experience that post-rain sagebrush scent right outside my front door.
I encourage you to visit a local nature trail during different seasons and check out what’s fragrant at various times of year in your area.
Currently, ceanothus is blooming all along the nature trails in Los Angeles. Their sweet scent certainly is intoxicating, heralding spring.
Wherever you live, I suggest including native plants from your region in your plan.
They serve as an excellent foundation for your garden’s design thanks to their resilience, and the balance and life they bring to ecosystems by welcoming birds and beneficial insects.
Generally, the best time to welcome native perennials into your landscape is during fall or early spring.
Be sure to read up on your selections so you will know how to prepare the planting area for seeds sowing or transplant.
A Seasonal Approach
Let’s go through the seasons by highlighting some shrubs, herbs, vines, flowers, and trees that are aromatically worthy of including in a scented garden, and when they exude their olfactory magic.
First, I must share this book that has been inspiring my design and appreciation for growing a scented garden: “Scent Magic” by Isabel Bannerman.
Reading the words of another gardener delighting in the wonders and beauty of fragrant plants is inspiring.
I find myself staring at the stunning photography that complements the beautiful, wise, and humorous expressions.
You can purchase a copy of your own on Amazon.
During winter, especially when the sun shines bright and we opt to take a step outside, we can experience scents that exist during the cold season, and they offer us hope for sunnier and warmer days to come.
Conversely, the season’s bleakness, with just a few plants expressing their odor, can make for striking impressions.
Several perennials and annuals shine during the winter. The first that comes to mind is the scent of evergreens like juniper, cypress, and pine.
Their bright and woody notes are comforting and uplifting. And there are dwarf varieties that can fit in almost any space!
For example, ‘Carolina Sapphire’ cypress, a cultivar of Arizona cypress (Hesperocyparis arizonica) can easily be grown in a container, plus it’s heat and drought tolerant.
You can purchase one through Plants by Mail.
I like cupping my hands around a bunch of needles and pressing them before I take a deep inhale through my nose. It’s such an invigorating experience!
A fellow gardener gifted me with a sweet violet, and they have started to bloom in my area this winter. I am amazed by the powerful fragrance their tiny flowers emit. They are calming and comforting!
Their leaves even have sharp green notes that remind me of the verdant fields of early spring that will soon be in bloom.
As the weather begins to warm, springtime’s light and heavy florals come forth!
The options are dreamy and extensive, from lilac, jasmine, and magnolia to lilies, citrus blossoms, sweet peas, hyacinths, narcissus, and mock orange.
The perennials mentioned can be planted in the fall, and the one annual mentioned here – sweet peas – should be propagated in late winter to early spring.
Flower bulbs that bloom in spring, like narcissus and hyacinths, should be planted in fall.
If you don’t have the space for lilacs or jasmine, gardenia is a lovely fragrant choice that can grow in a container.
There’s a compact gardenia cultivar called Jubilation™ that can be planted in a medium to large size container. It will grow three to four feet tall and three feet wide.
You can purchase the gorgeous G. jasminoides ‘Leeone,’ as it is also called, through Planting Tree.
Hyacinth and narcissus can also fit in small spaces, providing an intense perfume when they bloom.
Since the weather is improving, we spend more time in the garden during spring. Because of this, I like to pack in the plants that will shine this season!
In addition, I tend to select species that pollinators enjoy, bringing extra life to the garden while supporting local ecosystems.
As spring flowers fade with the onset of higher temperatures, we enter a wonderful world of aromatic plants that help make hot summer days a little more bearable.
In the height of summer, sometimes you can smell the blooming native sage plants exuding their fragrance into the hot summer air in my neck of the woods.
Another variety that I enjoy growing for its aromatherapy properties is clary sage.
This plant’s stem will be sticky with a potent smelling resin when in flower. If you touch it, the scent will have a lasting effect on your skin.
I’m also excited for my tuberose bulbs to arrive this spring!
They should be in bloom during the summer, and I look forward to enjoying them in the garden, resting nearby in a hammock so I can drift off while experiencing their floral influence.
I purchased mine from Eden Brothers, and you can too.
Summer is also a time when roses can reign! They come in many different sizes and scents, creating a fantastic aromatic experience for a romantic garden.
I grow native wild roses in our front garden, and their small flowers have a sweet and robust rose aroma that leaves a calming impression on anyone who ambles by.
I have a rose called ‘Grande Dame’ in my back garden that grows in a container. The flowers are enormous compared to the native wild roses and they have a perfume reminiscent of antique roses.
I also wanted to share at least one plant with scented foliage that thrives in the summer: lemon verbena.
The lemon verbena in our garden has been divided and replanted at least three times, and it’s still thriving!
The tiny white flowers that bloom in summer have a wonderful floral and citrusy aroma, and the leaves have a bright lemony scent that is easily released. Just brushing up against their leaves, I can experience their refreshing energy!
As the sun settles and the leaves begin to fall, some enchanting perennials can add drama to your garden with their fragrance.
When many of the garden’s blooms begin to fade and you think you’ve seen the last of them, in steps goldenrod.
California goldenrod (Solidago velutina ssp. californica) is the variety that I grow.
Their gold flowers, with the golden autumn sun setting behind them, can magically illuminate a garden patch, paired with a pleasant experience of the flower’s scent.
Another species, S. odora, has leaves that smell like anise.
I’ve only heard tales of the katsura tree (Cercidiphyllum japonicum), which smells like caramel corn or cotton candy.
For people familiar with this tree, the fragrance is associated with fall. As the tree’s foliage turns yellow, it emits this scent that can spread far.
A pollinator-loving annual that stands out with the perfume it can offer a garden during fall is flowering tobacco (Nicotiana sylvestris), with its gorgeous white tubular flowers.
The light jasmine fragrance is released in the late afternoon, making for an enjoyable evening in the garden.
You can purchase seeds through Botanical Interests. Start them after the last frost, and they will bloom from summer until the first frost!
Planning and Design Tips
As with all garden planning, it’s wise to have a game plan.
I suggest making a map reflecting where the sun shines in your garden at different times of year, and noting how long it lasts.
You can draw your map and record all of the relevant details in your gardening journal.
Ensuring you have a reliable source of compost or natural fertilizer to feed your soil to maintain healthy plants is another important step to set yourself up for success.
With healthy soil and your sunlight map in hand, you can make a wish list of your favorite fragrant perennials and annuals.
Create a design to place them in the areas of your garden where they will receive the amount of light they need to thrive, and be attentive to their needs for moisture as well.
Plants that require a lot of rain or supplemental irrigation should not be planted alongside others with lower demands for water.
Keep their mature height and spread in mind, to avoid casting shade on smaller plants that require full sun, or planting too closely together for your selected specimens to thrive.
Keep areas of the garden where you enjoy spending time in mind, and feature plants that will exude an enticing, relaxing, or invigorating scent throughout the seasons.
Many plants emit a natural fragrance that can change during their various stages of growth. Only a gardener can experience the subtleties of nature’s aromas that influence our moods to the fullest.
What plants do you grow that add to the fragrance of your garden? Do they make you feel a particular way? Let us know in the comments below.
If you enjoyed this guide, check out these articles that also highlight plants that would be perfect for a fragrant garden:
- 19 of the Best Fragrant Flowers and Shrubs to Grow in the Garden
- 17 of the Most Fragrant Plants to Grow Indoors
- How to Start Your Own Herb Garden