Scratch-n-Sniff: Fragrant Plants For Your Garden

When I was ten I loved getting a scratch-n-sniff sticker from my teacher. What a reward! Some lasted well after the actual sticker itself had rubbed off – they were little miracles, those ones. Crazy smells, my favourite was dill pickle. Still is.

No wonder I got into horticulture. Free sniff games to play every day with a walk around the garden. Here are my favourite fragrant plants:

Jasmine (Jasminum polyanthum)
No arguments here I imagine. The weird thing is that this unobtrusive little tramp-of-a-vine literally throws its scent at you, reaching 100m to lure in its insect pollinators. So I say, grab it, pull it towards you, cut armfuls and drape it all over your house, your chandeliers, your four-poster bed. It’s a thing. And this thing lasts a week. And you can measure this thing with how many years you have left on this planet.

Jasmine. Image by Linda Ross.

Boring old Mint (Mentha spp.)
I have failed to grow mint about 1700 times. But last year I won the mint lotto – a spot with morning sun and soil that never dries out. No more $3 bunches. Now it’s everywhere and every time I weed my garden (and that’s pretty damn often!) I spectacularly smell of mint. I reek of it. Even if this invasive mint surrounds the house and holds me hostage, I won’t complain.

Mint. Pic from Wikipedia Commons ('02014.11 Die drei Arten der Minzen' by Silar)

Scented Geraniums (Pelargonium spp.)
While we’re in my garden, I have an outdoor bathtub, with a fire underneath it. Yep, four star pickets and an EBay bargain equals a lifetime of happy nocturnal bathing. Anyway, I’ve surrounded it with scented geraniums. Scented geraniums came out on the First Fleet, and they’re so damn tough they used them as hedges. When I realised you could get hundreds of different fragrances I got excited – I chose ginger, lime, lemon, nutmeg and rose from a nursery that just specialises in geraniums. This means I can change my scented bath at a drop of a hat. If you don’t like bathing, make sure you plant them near a path or stairs where you can brush past, bruising them as you go, and enjoy aromatherapy of a purely botanical kind.

Pelargonium graveolens. Pic from Wikimedia Commons

Frangipani (Plumeria spp.)
Again no arguments? Frangpani reminds me of a teenage summer. A mix of coconut reef oil and wagging school. The fact that the tree is virtually unkillable is also pretty awesome. But did you know there are over 17 different fragrance types! Oil glands within the flowers contain essential oils, which by their very nature are volatile, with a complex chemical composition. Fragrant alcohols, known as terpenes, largely determine the particular nature of the fragrance – some argue that nothing can compare with the frangipani. Those who believe this, usually refer to Plumeria alba or P. obtusa in which the fragrance is consistent from one plant to the next. In the numerous varieties of P. rubra I’ve collected over the last ten years, I can smell nasturtium, rose, lemon, jasmine, honeysuckle, raspberry, and gardenia to name just a few.

Lemon Myrtle (Backhousia citriodora)
When the next rainy day finds you with nothing else to do, go sit under a Lemon myrtle. You’ll get a lemon scented bath for free. This shrub is native to the rainforests between Brisbane and Mackay in Queensland. Crush some leaves and add it to boiling water. It’s like drinking mouth wash – bush tucker at its most refreshing (and antibacterial, if you need that kinda thing). It also doubles as an excellent privacy plant, growing to 5 meters tall.

Cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum)
This one needs some effort on your part. You need to jump on it or at least bend down and crush it with your palms and rub it on your clothes. No need for exotic, expensive perfumes. You’ll smell for days like a clove-scented-cardamom-laced-chai tea. Cardamom grows knee high, has lush leaves, is very tough, and loves morning sun. I can’t live without it. Seriously.

Cardamom. Pic from Wikipedia Commons

Not just any rose. This one. And this one only. It’s the Bourbon rose, Rosa ‘Madame Isaac Pereire’. It strikes readily from winter cuttings and was first bred in France in 1878. If you do nothing else in your life, you must smell it, grow it, hold it close, and absolutely bury your head into it. Drink it in. It’s insanely good. I mean it.

And if you don’t remember anything else today, know this, you can buy vintage scratch-n-sniff stickers on Etsy. Yep they’re all there: grape, liquorice, Christmas pine tree, banana, dill pickle, peppermint ice-cream and cinnamon roll. And that includes Hot Dog.

Post header image by Luisa Brimble

Rosa 'Madame Isaac Pereire. Pic from Wikipedia Commons, by Dominicus Johannes Bergsma