We love plants for their color, their form, sometimes their fruit, and often. their fragrance. Sometimes the smallest flowers make up for their size by producing the strongest scents. Sweet alyssum is a low-growing annual that produces clusters of small flowers that smell like honey. Sometimes the aroma is strong enough you don’t even have to bend over to appreciate it.
Every time I pick sweet-smelling lily-of-the-valley, blooming in April and May, I think of a young friend who graduates from high school this year. When he was a little boy, I handed him some lily-of-the-valley. He took a sniff and rose up on his toes with a blissful smile. His eyes even rolled back a little. That’s the way to drink in the pleasure of a fragrant bloom.
Peonies are blooming now and produce a sweet scent that takes me back to the front porch of my early childhood. Ants also love peonies, and no amount of rinsing or even immersing in water will get all the ants from the spaces between all those petals. I’d rather not have ants on the kitchen table, but I enjoy vases of peonies on the hearth. Partially open peony buds will finish opening in a vase. When a heavy rain is forecast, I bring in more flowers than usual to keep them from getting beaten down.
Often plants have been bred for specific traits like color, strong stems and lasting bloom. In the process, fragrance is sometimes lost. You’ve probably had the disappointment of putting your nose to a beautiful rose and smelling nothing. When you buy a rose for your garden, check to see if it’s one of the many fragrant varieties available. Some beautiful lilies also lack fragrance, but Easter lilies, stargazer lilies and others can lift you up on your toes.
Hostas are valued more for their foliage than their flowers, but some have fragrant blooms. This is more likely with the white-flowering varieties than the ones with purple flowers. Often the plant tag will tell you if a variety is fragrant.
Old fashioned four o’clocks have a heady evening perfume. You can find seeds in catalogs, or you might find them in stores. You won’t find plants for sale, but you don’t need to because the seeds germinate well wherever you want them and some places where you don’t want them.
If you don’t have a big magnolia tree in your yard, find one within walking distance and be sure to stroll near it on a June evening for a pleasant lemony scent.
This month you can still buy a good assortment of herbs with fresh scents. Lemon balm and other members of the mint family need to be planted in pots or closely monitored to keep them from crowding other plants.
Love it or hate it? People have different opinions about scents. Unlike some people, I enjoy the pungent smell of marigolds and tomato plants. If you think datura (angel trumpet) smells good, count me out.