One of the joys of gardening is powerfully fragrant plants! There’s just nothing like sitting peacefully on your deck or patio while a lovely perfume wafts by on the breeze.
You probably already know many plants that fit that bill. Lilacs, hyacinths, roses and Oriental lilies are all renowned for that very reason. On warm afternoons, the single Oriental lily pictured below filled that entire corner of the yard with a sweet bouquet.
But I thought it might be fun to share some native plants that have similar properties and might be less familiar to you. In no particular order, therefore, here are four fragrant natives, some of which might even surprise you!
Many years ago, when my oldest son was just a baby in a stroller, my husband and I visited Garden in the Woods for the first time. It was a warm afternoon in May and as we were walking along one of the paths, I caught a breath of spicy-sweet aroma. I wasted no time in following my nose to its source.
The impression was strong enough that even years later, I still remembered the mental note I made of the plant’s Latin name:
- Rhododendron prinophyllum or Roseshell azalea
Good thing, because it was ten or fifteen years before I was able to get my hands on this species. Now I have two in my garden. (And I enjoy them every May!)
A number of our other native azaleas are also beautifully fragrant. And because they bloom at different times, it’s possible to enjoy them over a fairly long season.
Here are a few others to consider:
- Mid spring: Rhododendron canascens (Piedmont azalea)
- Mid to Late spring: Rhododendron atlanticum (Coastal azalea)
- Early summer: Rhododendron viscosum (Swamp azalea)
- Early to Midsummer: Rhododendron arborescens (Sweet azalea)
I’m generally a fan of paying extra for seed-grown straight species for reasons explained here.
That said, azalea species can interbreed with each other and a huge number of man-made crosses are available in the trade. You can even find a few fragrant cultivars with native parentage that extend the bloom season well into midsummer, such as some of Carlson’s Postscript Late Blooming azaleas.
Another native shrub which fills the cup of fragrance to the brim is sweet pepperbush (Clethra alnifolia). You might also see it listed as summersweet or sailor’s delight.
Why the latter? Local lore has it that when this shrub was blooming, sailors knew they were getting close to shore because even before they could see land, they could smell the flowers. That’s pretty powerful! And the blossoms have a lovely, spicy-sweet fragrance, too.
You have to site common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) thoughtfully because it is a colonizer. This probably isn’t a plant you want in a small garden. But if you have a space where you can give it some room to roam, common milkweed will fill the air with its strong, sweet perfume.
It’s best to grow this species with plants that grow strongly enough to hold their own against it. Mountain mint (Pycnanthemum spp.) is one strong contender.
And if it’s fragrance you’re after, hairy mountain mint (Pycnanthemum verticillatum var. pilosum) is an especially great choice as a companion to common milkweed. All you have to do is brush by hairy mountain mint as you walk and the air will be filled with a cloud of minty freshness. Ahhhh!
Strawberry flowers don’t have any particular fragrance that I’ve ever noticed. (Not that I’ve gotten down on my hands and knees to check them out, admittedly.)
But the fruits! My, oh, my.
I actually call my garden Strawberry Knoll because of a hot June day some years ago. The beating sun coaxed perfume from the ruby fruits studding the strawberry patch and filled (filled, I tell you!) the air with their sweet, fruity fragrance.
Might I also add that you can eat the berries. And they are delicious! I leave most for the birds to enjoy, but I’m certainly not above picking a handful to savor myself. No store bought fruit can begin to rival them for sheer strawberry flavor.
Fragaria virginiana is the wild strawberry’s Latin name.
This list is by no means comprehensive, but I don’t want to make the post overlong. For now, suffice it to say that there’s no shortage of aromatic native plants with which you can delight your sniffer. 😊
Maybe I’ll do a follow-up post at some point to feature others.
Meanwhile, though, I’d love to hear from you!
What plants do you love to grow for fragrance?