The familiar fragrance of home

First published on Charleston Gazette-Mail.

I did a bit of traveling this week and had a chance to stay in my first Airbnb — a cozy, older home in a charming Southern neighborhood.

As I parked the car and made my way up a few steps to the unfamiliar front walkway, I was greeted by a very pleasant and very familiar scent. It was sweet, a spring floral fragrance I instantly recognized and loved.

Smiling and looking to my right, there it was — a big, beautiful lilac bush in full bloom. I was instantly happy and knew this choice, this house, in this neighborhood, was the right choice.

As the days passed, even though I was in an unfamiliar place in a new city, I had the feeling of coming home each time I walked through the front yard. Was this all because of a smell?

This made me think about how I use fragrance in my own garden and how we associate certain garden scents with different places and memories.

Just last week, I continued the tradition of planting pots of citronella plants on my front and back porches. I keep the pots low knowing I will bump them, neighbors will brush by them and the dog’s tail will wag into them, all releasing the plant’s oils and helping to battle the bugs of summer.

Although I do have an herb garden, I keep additional pots of rosemary in my front garden, knowing they will share their fragrance as I plant and weed nearby. (And let’s be honest, can you ever have enough rosemary?)

I do the same with basil and mint outside my kitchen door. Yes, it saves me a few steps when I’m in a hurry, but again I know the plants will be brushed by friends when they visit and the dog as she dashes out the door to chase a sound in the yard, and again they will release their smells and create unexpected aromas.

When I think of my childhood and the gardens of my mom and my grandfather, I think of the smell of tomato vines. Funny, I know, but I remember them each in their own gardens tending to tomato plants, then coming in to wash off the smell. If I could only tell them now how I think of them, feel close to them and have waves of fond memories when I work with my own tomato vines.

Speaking with friends about my trip and how I was taken with the lilac bush, many shared ways they are inviting fragrance in their own gardens.

Carol plants hyacinths by her garage so she can be greeted by the sweet smell each day when she arrives home. Lisa continues her mother’s tradition of planting lilacs in the garden, remembering “each spring the wind would carry that heady fragrance through the window screens into the house.”

Linda has an old-fashioned climbing rose bush (Zephirine Drouhin) planted near her porch. She and her neighbors wait every spring for the blooms and the fragrance she describes as “exactly the way a rose is supposed to smell.”

Creating a fragrant garden can be a happy accident or done with thoughtful placement of your plants. Think about how you use your outside space. Is it a quick trip to pick up the newspaper and mail, or do you linger with friends on the patio?

Don’t forget to think of ways to bring nature’s fragrance inside. Jasmine, gardenias and eucalyptus will fill your house with sweet smells. I had a planter of oregano in my kitchen for years.

Find the fragrance that makes you smile, floral and sweet or maybe something more savory. Then plant accordingly. Plant in abundance, whether it’s in the ground or in pots and planters. Surround yourself, your family and friends with fragrance.

Create memories with smell that they will carry with them long after they leave — memories that will make them think of the fun they had when being in your home and your garden.

I know I will find a sunny spot and plant lilacs in my own yard this year. They like sun, lots of sun, and well-drained soil. I want them where I smell them every day in the spring. A bush with clusters of beautiful flowers and a sweet aroma that will welcome me home.

Jane Powell is a long-time West Virginia Extension Service Master Gardener through the Kanawha County chapter and has a garden with sunny spots and shady beds where she grows perennials, vegetables and herbs. She is also the communications director for a community foundation and a volunteer with several nonprofits in the community. Reach Jane at