If you wanted a garden just to look at, you could purchase a few good books on gardening and subscribe to a couple of choice magazines on the subject and be done with it.
But if a garden is a completely interactive place for you - a place to engage all of your senses - then be sure not to overlook scent. Smells have an emotional impact sometimes lacking in vision, and taking the time to create a fragrant space can make the difference between a pretty garden and one that's simply unforgettable.
"Fragrance adds to the ambience of the environment," says Peter Avila, assistant manager at Howard Pine's Garden Center and Green House, 1320 N. Third St. "Sometimes a fragrance will take you to a place in the past. Some fragrances will induce relaxation, and oftentimes we garden to relieve stress, as a way to shake off the day and transport us to a happier time and place."
One of the most rewarding attributes of a scented garden is its consistency.
"Fragrance is something you can have every day in the garden," says Ann Peuser, owner of Clinton Parkway Nursery, 4900 Clinton Parkway. "Even on a rainy, cloudy day, you can open a window and enjoy the scents that the yard has to offer."
Science of scent
As much as we might enjoy plant fragrances, their purpose is biological. Plants emit scents to attract pollinators, stimulating interaction between themselves and animals and further propagating their species.
We know that scented flowers attract pollinators, but biologists also have found that fragrance emitted by leaves draws pollinators to flora. The relationship between a plant and its pollinators is very specific and has created co-evolution between certain plants, insects and animals.
Scents also can protect plants from predators, and humans have taken notice, incorporating such scents as thyme oil into flea collars for pets.
The volatile compounds that are responsible for scent in leaves also protect certain plants from drought and desiccation. The bright rays of the sun stimulate the release of these oils as vapors, providing a fatty layer that keeps the leaf significantly cooler. This observation led to using rosemary in architecture as a way to cool walls that face the blaring sun all day.
A nose for scent
How to choose from among the array of aromatic plants can be quite perplexing. Fragrance is divided into categories: floral, citrus and spicy.
You might start by taking stock of your perfumes, soaps and shampoos to see if you favor one of these categories. Some gardeners love freesia and hyacinth, while others are turned off by these heady scents. Find what your nose appreciates.
Avila craves certain whiffs. "I love lavenders because it produces a sensation of relaxation for me," he says.
Peuser's nose gets aroused by a less floral scent.
"I love cedar mulch because the odor is always permeating the garden after you lay a thick layer down," she says. "I also adore the scent of rain. It makes me think of being a kid jumping through puddles and playing in the mud."
On the tip of your nose
The placement of fragrant flora is as important as having it to begin with, so try and situate your aromatic plants in areas that you frequent so you can enjoy their odiferous contributions. Sowing them near a window, bordering walkways, under a bench, or maybe where you park the car will pay off.
"Lavender is often planted along walkways," Avila says, "and just by brushing up against it, the scent will transmit onto that person's clothing or skin."
Also keep in mind the time of day in which certain plants are more aromatic. For instance, roses are most fragrant on damp mornings; moonflowers and flowering tobacco are pungent at night.
A great local garden to titillate the nose is the Audio-Reader Sensory Garden, created to enhance the garden experience for people who lack sight. A leisurely visit may give you a few good ideas for boosting the scents wafting around your yard.
Catch a whiff
Here's an overview of some plants that emit aromas:
Antique rose scents: ¢ Apple: "New Dawn," "Sweetbrier" and "Souvenir de la Malmaison" ¢ Cloves: "Nastarana," "Zephirine" and "Crimson Glory" ¢ Lemon: "Chrysler Imperial," "Basye's Blueberry" and "La France" ¢ Raspberry: "Duchesse de Brabant" ¢ Rose: "Autumn Damask," "Paul Neyron" and "Marchesa Boccella"
Night scents: ¢ Fragrant columbine ¢ Night-scented stock ¢ Moonflower vine ¢ Honeysuckle ¢ August lily (hosta) ¢ Evening primrose ¢ Night gladiolus ¢ Sweetautumn clematis ¢ Climbing hydrangeas
Annuals, perennials & bulbs: ¢ Daffodils (some) ¢ Flowering tobacco ¢ Heliotrope ¢ Hyacinth ¢ Iris ¢ Lavender ¢ Stargazer lily ¢ Lily-of-the-valley ¢ Scented geraniums ¢ Nasturtium (some) ¢ Lemon verbena ¢ Bee balm ¢ Peony ¢ Petunia ¢ Dianthus (some) ¢ Sweet pea ¢ Cat mint ¢ Tuberoses ¢ Herbs (many)
Shrubs, trees & vines: ¢ Butterfly bush ¢ Climbing hydrangea ¢ Crabapple (some) ¢ Gardenia ¢ Leatherleaf mahonia ¢ Lilac ¢ Star jasmine ¢ Sweet mockorange ¢ Wisteria (some)