Finding Your Fragrance: A Guide to Scented Plants

My favourite smell, bar none, is that of freshly brewed coffee in the morning. Add to that a hint of bacon (which I do not eat very often) and you have my version of nose nirvana. Fragrance often triggers memory, and by way of example, every time I bruise the leaves of Geranium ‘Biokovo’ I am brought into the presence of my somewhat stern but still lovable Austrian grandfather who always seemed to have an endless supply of Old Spice men’s cologne at hand. Of course, it shouldn’t surprise us that the same chemical composition found in plants (E.G. lemons), would be shared elsewhere in the botanical kingdom. And just to pique your interest, here is a list of scents, including everything from "bubblegum" to "outhouse" that can be found in gardens just like yours.


Heliotrope (Heliotropium arborescens)

According to my mother, this was the one thing I was allergic to as an infant, so it is a fragrance that I associate more with billiards and keeping my pool cue action smooth. That said, one sniff of the pale lavender to deep purple blossoms of Heliotrope (Heliotropium arborescens) is enough to bring most people back to their child-rearing days.


Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens)

I am talking about the vintage bubblegum scent here, like the Dubble Bubble or Hubba Bubba gum of days gone by, and it comes from a most unlikely source: Wintergreen. Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) is a low-growing evergreen subshrub native to eastern Canada with attractive white heather bells, bronzed winter foliage, and bright red berries. It is used to flavour everything from chewing gum, root beer, and tea, and is one of the ingredients of mouthwash as it has antibacterial qualities as well.


Corsican Mint (Mentha requienii)
Corsican Mint

Corsican Mint (Mentha requienii) may not look like much — just a low carpet of tiny green leaves often used as a groundcover — but just brush the foliage with your hand and olfactory visions of Christmas candy canes dazzle the senses. I like to use this plant in children’s fairy gardens and around stepping stones, where the bruised leaves scent the entire garden. This is also the plant used to make Crème de Menthe liqueur.


Katsura tree (Cercidiphyllum japonicum)
Katsura Tree

I look forward to the early days of autumn, particularly when I travel past a cluster of Katsura trees (Cercidiphyllum japonicum) on my morning cycle. Just as the leaves shift into their spectacular fall tones they emit the mouth-watering scent of caramel, although some might describe it as burnt sugar or cotton candy.