Although Francis Bacon, the 16th Century English philosopher and statesman, is best remembered for his promotion of the scientific method, I remember him for his observation that “the breath of flowers is far sweeter in the air (where it comes and goes like the warbling of music) than in the hand.”
This is exactly what to keep in mind when planning a sweet-smelling garden. Fragrant flowers typically keep spilling their sweet breath into our garden air longer when they are part of a living plant than when they are cut and placed in a vase of water indoors.
For visitors to our gardens, the scent of flowers is best encountered by chance, as when someone is standing on a veranda and suddenly becomes aware of the smell of honeysuckle nearby.
Some fragrant plants not only smell good, they look good, too, and are given a featured place in the garden. Gardenia augusta fills this bill perfectly, with its richly perfumed, rose-like spiral flowers of the variety called ‘Aimee.’ Plant it in a well-drained spot in rich organic soil in full sun to partial shade facing east or north.
Keep soil moist but not sopping wet, give it a feeding of fish emulsion every month during the growing season, and it and you will be happy.
April is a good month to plant Heliotropium x ‘Fragrant Delight.’ By summer it will perfumes the air with a scent that has been likened to cherry pie, popsicle and vanilla. It’s just a happy scent. This pretty plant performs best in groups of three, especially when planted where it gets afternoon sun that causes it to produce more of the volatile oils that create the perfume. Another bonus is that it’s easy to grow in average to good soil that is moist and well-drained.
First among the major players in the fragrant garden is the poet’s jasmine, Jasminum officinale. Here in the Mediterranean climate of coastal California we are exquisitely lucky to be able to grow the trio of jasmine, daphne and gardenia, since they are not hardy in colder areas. Even so, they may need a covering with an old sheet during hard freezes in our USDA Zone 9. While gardenias are floral, the jasmine’s fragrance is of quite a different character. It is musky, sandalwoody, incense-like, sensual, sexy and earthy, all at once. It evokes romance. Give it something to climb on outside your bedroom window and tie its long twining branches to the netting or structure. Make sure it gets full sun and plenty of water during the dry summer. When it’s in bloom, throw open your bedroom windows. You will be rewarded.
One of our favorite scents in the spring air here in Sonoma County is star jasmine, Trachelospermum jasminoides. It’s not a true jasmine, but is jasmine-like, as its species name indicates. It’s a scandent climber, meaning that it will form a shrub, but if there’s something nearby that it can use to haul itself upwards, it will climb. On warm May days, it can fill the air with a creamy rich vanilla scent. Night-blooming jasmine, Cestrum nocturnum, is a rangy grower with long supple branches and heavily scented flowers that perfume the night air. But it too, is not a true jasmine. And truth be told, many people don’t like its scent, which they say smells like hot dogs.