You don't have to grow exotic plants to enjoy fragrance. Some of the most deliciously scented plants have been around forever and are easy to find, grow, care for and keep alive. Consider something as common as Hall's honeysuckle, which a plant collector might snub as too ordinary. The leaves are plain old green, the flowers white with a touch of yellow.
But, oh, the aroma! It drifts on the breeze and carries to the farthest corners of the garden. In the midst of weeding, yards away, its delicious perfume fills me with happiness.
Decades ago, I stopped at a church bazaar and impulsively bought a tiny pot for 50 cents. I planted it in the front yard to camouflage an old willow stump, and it quickly covered the eyesore. I liked it so much I rooted a cutting and grew it in a pot. Now that same plant climbs an arbor in the backyard, permeating the air with sweet scent. I prune Hall's honeysuckle mercilessly to keep it reasonably tidy.
Sweet alyssum is just as common. An annual with tiny white flowers that self-sow, returning from year to year effortlessly, it has a perfume that's apt to sneak up on you in a delightful way.
Wandering through the front garden of the Sylvia Beach Hotel in Newport, I stopped to track down the source of fragrance in the air. I almost missed the carpeting patch of sweet alyssum hiding underneath some roses. I promised to grow some in my own garden next year - it was one of the first annuals I'd ever sowed, but like a lot of ordinary plants, I'd abandoned it in favor of newer prima donnas.
Most of the year mock orange is a twiggy shrub that you'd walk right by, but in June the white flowers are so fragrant that you must stop to inhale deeply. One morning over breakfast, my husband, Tom, pointed out a hummingbird darting from blossom to blossom in a frenzy.
Because mock orange is a quick thrill, blooming for about a month, I like it in the backdrop where it blends in with other greenery. Ideally, it would grow in your neighbor's garden, just over the fence line, for you to enjoy while it's in its prime. When its flowers fade, cut back some of the branches to shape the rangy shrub.
Countless roses are scented, but I can't live without three favorites. 'Hansa,' with double-deep purplish-pink flowers, emits a true rose perfume. It's a rugosa, with attractively crinkled leaves and thorny canes, growing 8 feet tall or more.
Rambling 'Veilchenblau' has clusters of small flowers the color of violets, with the scent of ripe plums, and smooth thornless canes. Mine travels into an old plum tree and drapes down like a purple waterfall. 'Westerland' is the showiest rose, with opulent flowers on a tall upright shrub. I love it without reserve for both its fragrance and color, a scintillating blend of orange and pink.
Cottage pinks waft the scent of cloves into the garden. Years ago, my white-haired neighbor Sadie Curtis yanked a few out of the ground, roots and all.
'Plant them!' she commanded. 'They're easy as pie.'
They grew and spread, and moved with me to my next garden, where they now line the edge of a border along a path.
For a romantic garden, lilies are essential. I love all Oriental lilies and their hybrids, especially 'Casa Blanca,' with big white trumpets. Regal lilies with wine tints on the outsides of the white petals are among the most elegant and can be grown from seed. Most lilies need good drainage and sun, but their footprint is small and they are lovely emerging in back of hardy cranesbills or day lilies.
Be sure to grow the novelty annuals that emit bakery aromas. Purple heliotrope reminds me of toasted almonds, although some say vanilla or talcum powder. Chocolate cosmos with wine-red flowers has hints of bittersweet chocolate when you put your nose right into the blossom.
Herbs also are full of scent - rub the leaves to release the strongest punch. Lemon verbena, lemon thyme and pineapple sage have fruity fragrances, while lavender is sweeter and rosemary hints of mint. Lavender is my ultimate tranquilizer - an eye bag filled with lavender sends me straight to dreamland.
Fragrance is very personal - our perception of scent varies. So pay attention to what pleases you and grow those flowers. Take time this summer for a stroll through Washington Park's International Rose Test Garden or Ferguson's Fragrant Nursery in St. Paul (www.fragrantnursery.com), and sniff out the plants that thrill you most.