Taking an environmentally sensitive approach to pest management


Missouri Environment & Garden


David Trinklein
University of Missouri
Plant Science & Technology
(573) 882-9631

Fragrance Gardening

David Trinklein
University of Missouri
(573) 882-9631

Published: June 1, 2008

The poet Emerson once wrote, “If eyes are made for seeing then beauty has its own excuse for being”. These words often have been used to justify the need for ornamental plants in our lives with the thought that gardens are a “thing of beauty”. The statement, however, suggests that beauty (e.g., that of a garden) can only be enjoyed if it excites our sense of sight through its color. While this sense has a strong influence on our enjoyment of a garden other senses are involved also. It is known that our olfactory sense can have a powerful effect on us as evidenced by the recent popularity of aroma therapy in homeopathic medicine. Odors have an emotional impact that visual impressions often lack. The fragrance of a flower or plant is an integral part of its appeal and helps to add to its enjoyment. Adding fragrance to a garden through the careful selection and placement of plants requires only modest effort and is well worth it.

Plants emit fragrances for various reasons. Most flowers that are fragrant emit volatile oils in an effort to help attract insect pollinators; Lathyrus (Sweetpea) provides us with an excellent example of this. Plants with foliage we consider fragrant might actually be attempting to ward-off insects with their fragrance. Just as “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” so is aroma. The “minty” fragrance most of us enjoy from members of the genus Mentha is a fairly effective deterrent for several harmful insects; the same can be said for a number of the herbs commonly grown in gardens. Careful selection of plants with fragrant flowers and aromatic foliage can both heighten our enjoyment of a garden while serving as a method of biological pest control.

Planning a fragrance garden is much like mixing aromas to create a perfume. One should start with a few of your favorite plants and work from there. For most of us this would include plants whose fragrances evoke memories of special events or a certain era of our lives. Examples include sweet alyssum, rose, stock, sweetpea, mints and lavender, just to name a few. Build the color theme of your garden around this basic “core” of plants and mix similar fragrances to emphasize a special effect. For example, one might mix the fragrances of lily-of-the-valley, old roses and heliotrope to create and nostalgia theme or lavender with a few of the pungent herbs for an edible effect. Remember that some fragrances are pungent and heavy while others might be lighter but linger longer in the garden.

The placement of fragrant plants in the garden is nearly as important as the species chosen. Fragrances hidden or placed downwind of a garden viewing point are wasted. One can both enhance and protect the effect of a fragrance garden by planting fragrant evergreens to form natural windbreaks or “fragrance pockets”. Walkways through gardens can be enhanced by planting fragrant prostrate plants such as creeping thyme near their edges. As the plants spread and tend to be stepped upon their fragrance is emitted. Plants that give off their fragrance in the evening (e.g., Nicotiana) should be located near areas where evening activities in the garden are enjoyed. These can be some of the most delightfully scented plants since they rely primarily on their fragrance to attract nocturnal pollinators. Light-scented plants should be located near non-fragrant plants to allow the garden visitor to enjoy their subtle fragrance.

The following is a list of some of the most commonly-used plants in fragrance gardens. All are fairly content in any good garden loam when provided with at least six to eight hours of sunshine and adequate amounts of water.

Fragrance is an ideal way to add to the enjoyment of any garden. From the spicy scent of herbs on a spring day to the rich fragrance of a tropical flower on a warm summer night, fragrance adds an extra appeal and can turn an attractive garden into an unforgettable one.

AnnualsPerennialsTrees, Shrubs & Vines
AlyssumCreeping thymeAmerican allspice
BasilGarden phloxBlack locust
DaturaHosta (H. plantaginea)Butterfly bush
GardeniaLavenderFlowering crab
LantanaMintMock orange
NasturtiumPeonySweet autumn clematis
StockSweet violetWitch hazel

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