ASK THE MASTER GARDENERS
I would like to plant flowers with great evening fragrance near my patio. Can you make some recommendations?
In the evening, the flowers of some annuals and perennial plants fill an area with fragrant scents to attract night pollinators and delight the gardeners. There are several shrubs which can scent the evenings.
Lilac ‘Syringa vulgaris’ and Korean spice viburnum ‘Viburnum carlesii’ bloom in the spring followed by mock orange ‘Philadelphus spp.’ in the early summer. A few herbaceous perennials also return every year to scent the night. The season starts in the spring with lily of the valley ‘Convallaria majalis,’ followed by oriental lilies ‘Lilium spp.’ in early summer.
Late summer brings garden phlox ‘Phlox paniculata’ and august lily ‘Hosta plantaginea var. grandiflora’, a hosta whose white flowers have a sweet scent.
(garden phlox ‘Phlox paniculata’ here, petunias on the cover; TJN file photos)
The intensity of fragrance of these plants can vary with the cultivars and even the specific plant. If possible, check out the various cultivars and individual plants in a nursery for fragrance.
To vary the scented experience from year to year, there are also night fragrant annuals to add to the garden. In the spring, a walk and sniff through the selection of pansies ‘Viola x wittrockiana’ in the nursery will reveal that there is a range of fragrance, from no scent to highly scented. Spring in the nurseries also brings a less common but extremely fragrant annual, stock ‘Matthiola incana.’ Stock and pansies do best in cooler weather and will need to be replaced in the summer by heat tolerant plants. Many cultivars of petunia ‘Petunia spp.’ are fragrant. Alyssum ‘Lobularia maritima’ is another commonly available summer annual that is highly fragrant.
A few other summer blooming annuals can scent the night, but they are not usually found in nurseries, so you must grow them from seed. Flowering tobacco ‘Nicotiana sylvestris’ is a tall, white flowered annual that will self sow readily. (The flowering tobaccos hybrids or nicotianas commonly found in the nurseries have been bred for compact growth and pink to red color but have lost most if not all fragrance.)
Four o’clocks, also called marvel of Peru, ‘Mirabilis jalapa’ has cultivars with many colors and degrees of fragrance. Sweet four o’clock ‘Mirabilis longiflora’ has a fairly unremarkable white flower but lovely scent. The flowers of both of the mirabilis species are closed during the day and open in the late afternoon, thus the name four o’clock. Another uncommon plant with fragrant cultivars is the angel’s trumpet ‘Datura meteloides,’ also called ‘Datura inoxia.’ It is easy to grow from seed and will self sow. Last — and very fragrant — is night blooming jasmine ‘Cestrum nocturnum,’ a tropical houseplant that could be planted outdoors in a container for the summer.
All of these plants will do well in sun to part shade conditions, except for the lily of the valley and august lily, which prefer part-shade to shade. A mixed planting of annuals and perennials should provide a long season of pleasantly fragrant evenings.
Donna De Sousa, Master Gardener Cornell Cooperative Extension of Rockland County