Stop and Smell the Roses (and Other Flowers)
On a warm evening, the scent of jasmine, tuberose or gardenia can fill the air with a relaxing bit of aromatherapy from your own garden. Our world contains a multitude of plants that carry scents ranging from sweet violets to almost overpowering honeysuckle. The location of your fragrance garden should be near a bedroom window, a room where you love to relax or a spot where you can place a comfortable bench or chair so you can enjoy it.
As with every garden, you'll need to find a spot with full sun and loose, well-drained soil. Not an easy task here in the Southwest. For most of us that means building your own soil by combining topsoil, compost and fertilizer. Amending your soil is going to be the most important step to getting your garden off to a healthy start. There are several ways you can do this. If your local nursery carries bulk garden soil, you can have it delivered or truck it in yourself; if you have a very small garden area, purchase it bagged. You can also make your own by using the following formula: one part top soil, one part compost or manure, one part shredded peat moss (for very sandy areas, not for heavy clay soil). Mix in a wheelbarrow or directly in your beds. The ideal soil should be deep, well-drained and fertile, contain plenty of organic matter, and retain moisture well. Sandy soils tend to be low in fertility and do not hold water well. Clay soils often drain poorly, crack when dry, and become very sticky/pasty when wet. Adding organic matter to almost any Southwestern soil will improve it. Most soils in New Mexico are low in organic matter.
For container gardening, I always recommend clay, not plastic containers, because clay breathes while plastic retains heat and moisture—if you're not careful, plastic can "boil" the roots of your plants. Clay containers dry out much more quickly than regular gardens. Before you plant in your clay pots, soak them overnight in water. And if you're reusing pots, CLEAN THEM THOUROGHLY WITH SOAP AND WATER! Do not use cheap potting soil or plain topsoil. It will harden and your plants will not do well. Pick a potting soil that has a slow-release fertilizer and is loose so that it drains well. The cheap stuff hardens like cement.
When picking out plants, the first rule is that you don't want every plant in your fragrance garden to have a strong scent. That would be like going to the perfume counter and spraying everything you can find on your clothes. ([I actually tried this when I was a child and think it created some type of nerve gas.) You want a garden that is balanced with subtle fragrance.
You also want to balance the flowers and the foliage. Make the garden interesting with different textures, shapes and sizes of plants. Add in some potted varieties.
Don't forget about paths or walkways. Intermingle stones or bricks with wooly thyme or Corsican mint. Every time you walk across these plants they will release their wonderful fragrance. Chamomile is still used today in Great Britain as a "lawn"—established beds are mowed like grass and are very hardy.
There are so many fragrant plants it's often difficult to choose. I will divide them out by groups and give some suggestions as to what works in our area:
Shrubs and Vines
You may also wish to try Trumpet Vine, Climbing Nasturtiums, Arnold's Red Honeysuckle and Hoya.
We are so fortunate to have a climate that roses flourish in. Miniature roses rarely have a noticeable fragrance, but they are a great accent plant. In the Tea Rose category, the following varieties are stunners for both fragrance and color:
Climbing roses do especially well in the Southwest:
Annuals & Perennials
Some suggestions for texture plants: Silver King Artemisia, Purple Ruffles Basil, French Tarragon, Lemon Balm, Lemon Verbena, Rosemary, Bay, Santonlina.
Remember the "tall to small" rule as you plan your garden. You don't want forward plants to overshadow the rest.
The bloom season in the fragrance garden starts with the first violets and grape hyacinths of spring and continues until the last calendula are killed by the late autumn frosts. You can enjoy the sight of the garden as well as harvest some of the bounty for floral arrangements, potpourris and crafts.