Contributed by Sharee Solow, Freelance Landscape Designer, Consultant, Lecturer,

Carrion plants attract as many people as they do flies when those big, stinky, flowers open. You don't need to be a gardener to be fascinated by them, but good-smelling plants are usually taken for granted. We know flowers attract pollinators like hummingbirds and bees, a good reason to have them. The bonus is that the oils repel herbivores (except chefs). Leaves, bark, and fruit all have essential oils that mingle to create a unique perfume palette for the garden. More complex than a perfume you would wear, this effect changes with heat and cold, day and night, and season to season.

Think about strategic placement. I try to put some fragrant sweet box (Sarcococca) in shaded areas at entrances. Night bloomers like the big flowering tobaccos (Nicotiana) go near sitting areas. For centuries, herbs have been planted near a kitchen door, as is still popular today.  Some herbs also make a great groundcover on sunny patios, while those that are tall and soft make an irresistible edge when walking down a path as the foliage is its most aromatic after being bruised. If you design a scented garden, you still need to plan for color, bloom-season, size, and other parameters. Annuals and tropicals placed in key positions will really send the fragrant garden over the top! To get you started on your exploration toward a more multi-sensory garden, here are a few suggestions:

  • Giant hyssop (Agastache): Anise hyssop is my first choice for something native to the US. Licorice-scented leaves with stalks of flower tubes scream for bees and hummingbirds. There are many cultivars with colors and sizes galore.
  • Russian sage (Perovskia): Got a tough spot?  Sun, drought, animals, cars—this can take it with elegance. This lavender look-alike with silver foliage is covered with soft purple spikes of flowers far into fall.
  • Flowering tobacco (Nicotiana): With 67 species and endless cultivars, this is an easy choice for an evening garden when they have their strongest scent. Pollinated by moths as well as being attractive to hummingbirds, I like the three-foot tall Nicotiana sylvestris with its huge flower heads and equally huge, velvet-soft leaves.
  • Oriental lily (Lilium): For a small garden, this is your go-to summer flower because it takes very little space (a bulb) and provides intense fragrance while also being gorgeous. They grow well in containers, so you can sneak them into holes after spring flowers fade. Watch what you buy, because the non-fragrant Asian lilies are usually finishing when the Orientals bloom.
  • Roses (Rosa): The iconic flowering shrub in a scented garden. There is a rose for everyone: vines, shrubs, miniatures, heirloom to name a few, let alone the thousands of cultivars.
  • Scented Geraniums (Pelargonium): These aren't grown for flowers, but for that irresistible fuzzy foliage. They're like having a pet—rub them to release apple, apricot, cinnamon, ginger, lemon, nutmeg, orange, strawberry, rose and peppermint fragrances!
  • Chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile): More than for herbal tea, it’s also a great flower to use as a sunny groundcover. Not long after scattering seed on the ground, classic little white daisies cover the soft green foliage.
  • Thyme (Thymus): It doesn't get easier than this to fill little sunny gaps with purple or pink flowers that attract lots of pollinators. English thyme is for cooking, but there are dozens more to choose from.
  • Mint (Mentha): Ok, it can get out of control, but peppermint, spearmint, chocolate, or orange are just some of the fun varieties to pick for your next happy hour. Keep them in a pot and you can set it right where you need it. Pollinators will adore them when you let them bloom.


Website Resources:

The American Rose Society

The Herb Society

North American Lily Society