Good to Grow: Fragrance in the garden air

Mi amor, it’s Valentine’s Day. One of the sweetest days of the year, and love is in the air. As the smell of roses and chocolate fill the room, my mind wanders to thoughts of a garden that will greet visitors with lovely fragrance as they travel through the space.

Although my snowdrops and their tiny white flowers are a welcomed sight in my winter garden, it is the Lily of the Valley bulbs I planted last fall that I am anxious to see appear. They, too, will have a small, white bell-shaped flower, actually several in a row that will hang from a stem. The stem will emerge from dark green leaves that are as sculptural as the blooms. Lily of the Valley flowers have a fragrance that will greet me when I’m in the front yard.

Over time, these lilies will spread through underground rhizomes and continue to fill my garden space. I was careful to plant them away from the pup; Lily of the Valley are beautiful but can be poisonous to animals and children.

Another spring flower that will bring early color and fragrance to the garden is hyacinth. These grow from a bulb planted in the fall. The flowers can be a variety of colors, including pink, purple, blue, and white. Hyacinth is also an easy choice to “force” to bloom indoors before the last frost.

Lily of the Valley and hyacinths are bulbs you may want to plant in the coming fall, but for now, there are plenty of ways to introduce scents into your garden this spring. Annuals such as sweet alyssum and scented geraniums are planted from seed after the last frost.

Want a head start? Think about starting the seeds now (tips on starting seeds can be found in an earlier Gazette-Mail column or at When planted in a sunny, well-draining area, sweet alyssum will create a carpet-like cover of tiny, white flowers. These flowers like it cool, so expect blooms early, then again in late summer.

Scented geraniums also like full sun, but will grow in partial shade. Expect these flowers to appear late spring into the beginning of summer.

The scent comes from the oil in their leaves and is released as the leaves are rubbed or crushed.

Sweet woodruff does best in the shade. I have a friend who has this growing under a small tree. This fragrant garden near her fence gate is sprinkled with ceramics and provides visitors with delight upon entering the property.

Perennial flowers, shrubs and trees can offer fragrance, but as breeders have worked to create disease-resistant, full and stronger varieties, the fragrance is often sacrificed. If available, heirloom plants will give you a more intense scent.

When designing your garden, think about adding fragrant plants planted in groups near open windows or seating areas. Also, spread the fragrance throughout your garden, so as you and your guests move about in the space, you will be greeted by new scents from each room.

Do keep in mind that just as you admire the fragrance, so will butterflies and insects. I have a carpet of thyme near my back deck. Bees love it! They buzz around the flowers nonstop. This slope is not a pathway, and I am happy to see the bees. So far, so good, the bees are so excited they don’t even think about bothering humans or curious pups.

I couldn’t write about garden fragrance without mentioning lilacs and lavender. The lilac shrub can grow quite large, but if you have the space and the sunshine, there is nothing like the smell of lilacs in the garden or as a cut flower in the house.

Lavender plants love the sun, but need to be in well-draining soil. They do not like wet feet. Finding the right spot to make lavender happy can be tricky, but keep trying.

Having it near a pathway where you will brush the leaves and release the scent is calming and relaxing — everything you want lavender to be.

Love and roses may fill the February air, but plan carefully and sweet smells will fill your garden throughout the year.