Fragrance that rivals the sweetest perfume
The flowers of mignonette don’t look like much, but they carry a beautiful perfume. Here they’re growing with blue Chinese forget-me-nots.
Some of the loveliest, freshest scents in the garden come from cool-season annuals. No garden should be without easy-to-grow sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritima). Its dainty white flowers have a honey fragrance that’s as attractive to insects as it is to gardeners. In fact, sweet alyssum is an important nectar plant for beneficial insects like lacewings and lady beetles. The low-growing plants are perfectly at home at the edge of a bed or cascading out of pots. Happily, sweet alyssum is one of those plants that perpetuates itself readily.
Mignonette (Reseda odorata) was an old-fashioned, fragrant favorite of Gertrude Jekyll. Its flowers are not at all showy, but the fresh perfume they emit made them a mainstay of Victorian gardens, where they were often grown in pots to raise the diminutive 10-inch plants up to nose level.
Sweet Annie (Artemisia annua) grows to 6 feet tall with soft, feathery, bright-green foliage that is sweetly fragrant when brushed. I first encountered sweet Annie at Caprilands Herb Farm in Coventry, Connecticut. There it formed a willowy, informal hedge in the garden, and indoors renowned herb gardener and writer Adelma Simmons used it lavishly, as our colonial ancestors did, in dried arrangements and hung from ceilings to freshen the air. Crush the leaves of sweet Annie and hold them up to your nose and you’ll find the sweetness enhanced by camphor—an obvious giveaway to the plant’s Artemisia pedigree. Sweet Annie is reputed to have weedy tendencies, but it has never self-sown aggressively in my garden, and volunteers from season to season have always been a welcome surprise.