|Not all Dianthus are scented but many like these are.|
Gardens are mostly visual creations. People are drawn to them for the inherent invitation in a garden path, an eye-drawing plant arrangement, or a welcoming spot of color. Alluring gardens draw by the other senses. The sound of fountains or wind chimes, the feel of lamb’s ear or an Astilbe's flower spike, the movement of tall ornamental grasses, the whiff of roses or crushed mint, all add tantalizing dimensions to any garden’s enjoyment.
Fragrance is how our minds interpret the chemical composition of inhaled essences. Norman Taylor, in his 1988 book, Fragrance in the Garden, claimed garden plants have only six distinct types of (pleasant) fragrance. These scents, captured in essential oils, are the basis of the perfume industry.
The first scent type Taylor identifies is that of pears, hawthornes, spireas. This scent is found in few annuals and perennials such as fragrant tulips.Think fruity scents.
Heavy scents are the second type. These include the extremely sweet, heady, fragrances of jasmine, lilac, honeysuckle, and some lilies. I used Casa Blanca lilies in an arrangement once, and believe me, the scent can be overwhelming, even to the point of bringing on a migraine. Many people find this scent unpleasant as the syrupy sweetness contains a hint of decay. Taylor says all these plants include various amounts of indol, a scent identified with the ‘end products of animal putrification.’ They are also the most sensual of fragrances. Madonna lilies (Lilium candidum), Narcissus such as ‘Thalia’ or the poet’s narcissus (Narcissus poeticus) add this fragrance to your garden.
Flowers like clove pinks, hyacinth, crocus, primrose, heliotrope, Nicotiana, and many herbs such as lavender are included in third group of spicy scents similar to cinnamon or clove. These scents are not so cloying sweet as the heavy scents.
Taylor claims the last three scents are violet, rose and lemon types. Most violets grown in the United States are near scentless so to introduce this fragrance into your garden is almost impossible. Only the spring-blooming bulb plant Leucojum vernum (snowflakes) contains the violet essential oil irone. Orris root, the dried and pulverized root of Iris germanica var. florentine is said to contain this scent. I have some, but my nose hasn’t detected the elusive scent of violets.
Rose scent is available among those iris, peonies and roses still containing fragrance. Lemon scent is found in four-o’clocks, lemon verbena leaves and many herbs such as lemon balm and French sorrel.
You probably already have scented plants in your garden, but after a hot afternoon of sweaty weeding, it’s nice to know where to go to get a fresh, sweet scent.
If you can find a copy of Taylor's book, Fragrance in the Garden, you will find it fascinating reading.