One of the pleasures I get when touring a well thought-out garden is all the various fragrances you smell from a multitude of plantings. Many times gardeners overlook this in their landscape planning and focus on the two senses of sight and taste as their main effort. Their yards will have a lot of color with many fruit trees and vegetables planted, but missing is fragrance in the garden. I, however, have made a conscious effort to scatter fragrant plants around my 1-acre plot. I try to find plants that flower at different time of the seasons to ensure the garden has aroma year-round. I also have planted some nighttime flowering plants that only give off their aroma once the sun is down. So while there is usually some plant to smell in my garden year-round, it is during summer that fragrance in the garden is at its peak. Here are some of the plants stealing the show right now.
The first is the standard go-to fragrant plant—Gardenia jasminoides. I am not sure what variety this is, as it was an original planting way back in 2005. As long as you can take care of their specific needs here in Southern California, Gardenia jasminoides is hard to beat for the strength of its fragrance wafting through the air. To get it to flower its best you must grow them in well-drained, humus-rich, acidic soil. Here in SoCal it is important to make sure to supplement Gardenia jasminoides with fertilizers for acidic soil-loving plants. When your soil’s Ph gets to high, the plant suffers and will not flower.
Heliotropium arborescens ‘Nagano’ is a great year-round flowering plant. This is a Proven Winners offering, and unlike many Heliotropiums, this variety stays compact and in my garden as a perennial. An added bonus is the vanilla-scented bloom, which attracts honey bees and hummingbirds.
Brunfelsia is another popular flowering plant in Southern California. While there are a few varieties that can be purchased in the nurseries, I have found Brunfelsia pauciflora ‘Magnifica’ to be the nicest form and the most fragrant. Peak flowering season is the spring, however Brunfelsia pauciflora ‘Magnifica’ is a rebloomer, as you can see in the picture below.
When looking to add nightly aroma to your garden there are probably no two better plants than Brugmansia and my personal favorite—Michellia champaca. The Joy Perfume Tree gets its name from the fact that it is the flower used to help create one of the most famous fragrances in the world—Joy Perfume. The name of the tree is a little misleading, because the reality is that Joy Perfume is mostly made up of jasmine and rose and only a small portion of the fragrance comes from Michellia champaca.
In a Southern California garden, Michellia champaca loves a little protection from full sun and wants its root zone covered in mulch or shaded from the sun. If you can offer this, Michellia champaca will reward you at night, when its flowers open up. Its fragrance carries a long way and on humid nights it is at its strongest.
One plant that really needs to be grown more in our warmer California micro-climates is Stemmadenia littoralis (Milky Way Tree). It is a beautiful, small tropical flowering tree with creamy-scented flowers (yeah, not really sure how better to describe the scent). Stemmadenia littoralis, like many tropical plants that have a strong fragrance in the tropics, are not as fragrant here, as our dry air diminishes it. However, it is still worth growing, and people walking around your garden will certainly notice its scent.
Of course pretty much everyone’s favorite fragrance in the garden in the tropics is Plumeria. While Frangipani flowering season is not near as long here in Southern California as it is in the tropics, it still does surprisingly well for us. So much so, I really couldn’t imagine having a garden without Plumeria planted in it. My favorite Frangipani in the garden is my Plumeria obtuse (Dwarf Singapore Pink). During warm winters it doesn’t drop its leaves and since it is a pretty quick grower for a Plumeria, it flowers earlier in the year than my Plumeria rubra. You can see from the photo below that it makes a nicely shaped small tree that is loaded with flowers.
I have quite a few other Plumerias planted as well. Here are two of them. Both plants are Plumeria rubra. One is an unknown variety for which I lost the tag from Jungle Jacks and the other is a red variety from Jungle Jacks called “Valentine.” Many of the reds grown in San Diego do not have any scent to them. Valentine does, however.
Dyschoriste hygrophyloides (Bridal Flower) was discussed in another post I made earlier this year. This pretty flower has a unique scent that grows on you.
Atractocarpus rotundifolius is one of the rarer plants I have in my garden. This New Caledonian native was discussed recently in a post as well. While it is a Gardenia relative, it is not as powerful in the scent department as my Gardenia jasminoides. Overall, however, it is a much prettier plant in my opinion. Unfortunately, unless my plant makes seed, I doubt you will find Atractocarpus rotundifolius for sale any time soon.
Another group of plants that I really love in my garden are my Radermacheras. I currently have three types planted out in my yard. Only my Radermachera ignea is not of flowering age yet. My other two Radermacheras are profuse bloomers, but unfortunately, as with Stemmadenia littoralis, these plants do not have the same powerful scent they do in the tropics. But just like Stemmadenia littoralis, there are many other reasons to grow these anyway. The first picture is of my Radermachera sp. “Kunming” and the second is of a much rarer species—Radermachera elmeri. The Radermachera elmeri was a recent purchase from a rare plant collector out of Florida.
Some plants make you work a little to release their fragrance in the garden. One such example is found in my Murraya koenigii (Curry Leaf Tree). To get to its aroma you must first rub the leaves or fruit. The Curry Leaf Plant doesn’t really have the smell of curry power, and the reason for that is curry powder is actually a pretty complex seasoning. It mixes quite a few things including coriander, fennel, cumin, turmeric, red pepper and sometimes ginger, allspice, cardamom, and mustard.
While the smell of the leaves is one of the reasons I grow Murraya koenigii, the main reason is that it is a really beautiful and carefree small tree. Plus I really enjoy the color of the bark.
I do have quite a few more fragrant plants in my garden, but these were the ones that stood out while I walked around this week. One plant that is purposely absent from my garden (much to my wife’s displeasure) is Jasmine. It is such a common plant in California that I don’t feel the need to contend with its spreading, viney growth habit. Sorry Jasmine lovers, but my wife can smell the neighbors’ plants.