Many favorite memories are triggered by our sense of smell, so it's no wonder that garden flowers are the source of many pleasant recollections. Remember the sweet scent of grandmother's old-fashioned pale pink roses that seemed to grow untamed in the back yard? Do you recall the exotic white blossoms of a magnolia tree in the heat of summer? How about the intoxicating aroma of tropical blooms that seemed to surround you on a trip to the islands?
Flowers are admired for their beauty, exquisite shapes and seemingly unending spectrum of colors, but some varieties are most loved and respected for their amazing scents. Some gardeners even plan their gardens to provide year-round sensory delights.
From the delicate scent of lily-of-the-valley to the heady aroma of wisteria and the soothing smell of jasmine, read on to learn more about 10 of the best smelling flowers.
Known to tourists as the Hawaiian lei flower, frangipani (Plumeria rubra) is native to warm tropical areas of the Pacific Islands, Caribbean, South America and Mexico. These beautiful flowers -- which grow in shades of pink, red, yellow and white -- appear to be kissed with a touch of gold at the center. Frangipani has a distinctly tropical scent that grows more intense in the evenings, and the blossoms make a lovely addition to a dramatic bouquet.
Frangipani flower plants can grow to be large shrubs or small trees, with long leathery, fleshy leaves near the tips of the branches. Their flowers contain a poisonous, milky sap that can irritate the skin. In addition, the tree's wood can be used to make musical instruments, tableware, and furniture [source: The Flower Expert].
The scent of sweet alyssum (lobularia maritma) is as pretty as its name. Fortunately, it's also one of the easiest annuals to grow. Seeds can be sown uncovered directly in the ground as soon as it thaws or in pots, and the plants will bloom from early spring to fall in full sun to part shade.
Alyssum is a mat-forming plant with dense clusters of tiny, sweet-smelling flowers. With little effort and expense, this plant will give you the most fragrance in your garden for a minimum investment; although it's low to the ground, the intense scent floats through the air. It also grows easily from inexpensive seed and reseeds itself [source: Ferguson].
Chocolate lovers, here's a flower for you! Chocolate cosmos (cosmos astrosanguineum) are known for their unique reddish brown flowers that have a light vanilla fragrance, like many chocolate candies. Even though the smell is intriguing, don't be tempted to taste the poisonous blossom.
Native to Mexico, chocolate cosmos are an herbaceous perennial in warmer climates, and an annual in colder climates. They grow from 1 to 3 feet tall(30 to 91 centimeters), and enjoy full sun to partial shade. Gardeners recommend clustering six to eight plants together to enjoy the full effect of the fragrance, which becomes stronger as summer days heat up [source: Ferguson].
In the southern U.S., it's a sure sign of spring when the sweet scent of wisteria (wisteria futescens) wafts through the air. Wisteria's huge flowers resemble grape-like clusters, and in some varieties, the clusters can grow up to 3 feet (91.4 centimeters) in length. The purple-or-white hued petals of the wisteria will drop within a few days, so it's best to pause, relax under the lovely shade and enjoy this beauty while you can.
Gardeners love its delicate perfume in the spring, but the rest of year, this vigorous vine seems to have a mind of its own. Wisteria loves to climb and wander, adding privacy and shade to pergolas or arbors. It can also be trained on a trellis, or grown horizontally on the ground.
Known for their intensely fragrant flowers, sweet peas (lathyrus) have been cultivated for more than 300 years. Their flowers appear in many different shades from red and pink to yellow to white, plus combinations of colors. A stem bears from one to seven flowers, each about two inches (51 millimeters) wide.
Sweet peas can grow to be 4 to 6 feet (1.2 to 1.8 meters) tall, although some bush varieties aren't quite as tall. If your area usually has a mild winter, sweet peas can be planted in the fall; otherwise plant them in early spring. You'll be able to enjoy the flowers from spring through summer, although they don't really care for intense summer heat.
A gardener's tip: Some varieties aren't fragrant at all, so be sure to read the description of the type you're purchasing.
The tiny white or pink bell-shaped flowers of lily-of-the-valley (convallaria) pack a beautiful fragrance. Tough, but fragile in appearance, this easy-care groundcover is a choice you can plant in shady spots and enjoy for years. This perennial that tends to spread, so be sure to plant it in an area where it will have some growing room or provide an edging to keep it in place.
The lily-of-the-valley's small, nodding flowers grow on top of a thin stem, surrounded by wide glossy green leaves that grow to a height of about 6 inches (15.2 centimeters). The delicate flowers make a beautiful miniature bouquet.
In early summer, this classic evergreen shrub bursts into flower with thick, white and waxy blossoms that release an intoxicating aroma that can perfume an entire garden. The gardenia was named for physician and botanist Alexander Garden, a resident of Charleston, S.C. [source: Thigpen]. This sophisticated white flower has inspired several perfumes, including Chanel's Gardenia and Marc Jacobs Eau de Perfume.
Gardenias reach 6 to 8 feet (1.8 to 2.4 meters) tall and 4 to 5 feet (1.2 to 1.5 meters) wide. They like rich soil, light shade and frequent watering, and are susceptible to aphids, mealybugs, mites and whiteflies. Gardenias may require a little work to keep them healthy and insect free, but the rich, sweet aroma is worth the effort!
The name of this lovely flower offers a hint to its special daily performance -- the trumpet-shaped blooms of this shrubby perennial open in mid-afternoon and stays open all night. It's not an early happy hour that causes the flowers to open, it's the drop in temperature in the late afternoon. The flowers stay open until the sun warms the air the next morning.
Gardeners suggest planting them close to a patio or deck, where you can enjoy their strong fragrance in the evening. Flowers in bold colors of fuchsia, yellow or white add dramatic color to your garden; they'll start to bloom in midsummer and will flower until frost. Four o'clocks grow in both full sun and partial shade, need very little water, and will grow to be 3 to 4 feet (0.9 to 1.2 meters) tall [source: Thigpen].
The rich, sweet fragrance of white or yellow jasmine (jasminium polyanthum) has made it very popular flower around the world. Native to tropical and warm temperate regions, its essential oils are used in perfumes and aromatherapy for both relaxing and aphrodisiac effects.
Closely related to the olive family, there are over 200 different species of jasmine. These woody vines can grow to height of 10 to 15 feet (3.0 to 4.6 meters), growing 1 to 2 feet (30 to 61 centimeters) each year. Jasmine is prized for its brilliant green leaves as well as its soft, delicate, and sweetly scented flowers. Common jasmine is native to Iran, and its flowers are the source of attar of jasmine, which used in many perfumes. The dried flowers of Arabian jasmine are used to make jasmine tea.
Would a rose by any other name smell as sweet? That question has vexed poetry lovers for decades. It's also a good question for florists and gardeners: it seems that the scent of many of the modern varieties grown for use by florists pales in comparison to old-fashioned garden roses.
Roses are divided into three classes. Species roses feature simple five-petaled flowers and colorful hips; old garden roses offer a delicate beauty and a wonderful perfume, usually white or pastel in color; modern roses are prized for their rich colors and luxurious shapes with a subtle aroma that varies among species. Successfully growing roses requires a lot of sunlight, frequent pruning and fertilization, and great deal of TLC, but their beauty, complexity, and intoxicating fragrance are extremely rewarding [source: The Flower Expert].
For more information on sweet-smelling blooms, follow your nose to the next page.
Looking for some gardening tips for beginners? Check out our Gardening for Beginners: Tips for First-Timers article now!
- BHG.com. "The Best Fragrant Flowers for Your Garden." (Accessed April 8, 2011) http://www.bhg.com/gardening/design/styles/fragrant-plant-favorites/.
- Ferguson, Danielle. "Sweetly Scented Annuals." Fine Gardening. (Accessed April 7, 2011) http://www.finegardening.com/print.aspx?id=107858.
- Reed, Rebecca Bull. "Enchanting Wisteria." Southern Living.com. April 2008. (Accessed April 11, 2011)http://www.southernliving.com/home-garden/gardens/enchanting-wisteria-00400000010286/
- The Flower Expert.com. "Frangipani." (Accessed April 11, 2011)http://www.theflowerexpert.com/content/aboutflowers/tropicalflowers/frangipani
- The Flower Expert.com. "Roses." (Accessed April 9, 2011) http://www.theflowerexpert.com/content/mostpopularflowers/rose
- Thigpen, Charlie. "Scents of the South." Southern Living.com. 2004. (Accessed April 11, 2011)http://www.southernliving.com/home-garden/gardens/scents-south-00400000006664/