Whether you have a sunny windowsill, a small patch of soil in a city landscape, or a large expanse, you can fill your home with the beauty and sensual delight of fragrant herbs. Purchase herb plants or seeds at your local garden center. Seed starting indoors gives gardeners the opportunity to grow unusual, heirloom or hard-to-find varieties.
Fragrant Herbs Defined
Fragrant herbs are simply herb plants with strong scents. The scent may be contained in the flowers or leaves. Some herbs listed are technically woody perennials, but most people think of them as 'herbs'. When planning your fragrance garden, you may wish to anchor the garden plan with highly scented roses, such as old rose varieties, and include scented annuals, such as scented geraniums, verbena and others along with your herb plants.
Enjoying Fragrant Herbs
When planning your fragrant herb garden, bear in mind that scent dissipates with space. The more open the garden site is, the more the scents you are trying to cultivate will evaporate into the air. A slightly contained site, such as an area between bushes (but not shaded), or perhaps next to a wall or foundation, may help to retain and contain the scent so you can enjoy it throughout the day.
- Catmint: (Nepeta) Catmint is a low-growing, fragrant perennial herb with purple-blue flowers. It's a member of the mint family, and very easy to grow. Yes, cats enjoy lolling about in beds of catmint, but despite the trampling your flowers will receive, catmint is so hardy it will bounce back in no time at all. Catmint likes a dry, sunny (six hours or more a day of direct sunlight) location.
- Roman Chamomile: (Anthenimus nobilus) If you think 'tea' when you think chamomile, think again. Chamomile is also a popular aromatherapy remedy and it is said that the fragrant induces a calm state of mind. Like catmint, chamomile prefers a hot, dry location in full, direct sun. White, daisy-like flowers grace the chamomile.
- Lavender: (Lavandula) No fragrance garden should be without lavender. Like the other fragrant herbs, lavender prefers hot, dry and sunny conditions. Lavender is not easy to transplant, and some varieties can be quite fussy, so smart gardeners shop the local garden center for potted plants of lavender. Depending upon the variety, the flowers may be many shades of purple or blue. The scent can be soft and subtle, or strong and perfume-like. Lavender is also an excellent moth repellent. Dried lavender flowers sewn into cloth pouches and placed between clothes gives them a fresh, sweet scent and deter moths. More information on lavender essential oils is also available.
- Lemon Balm: (Melissa officianalis) Lemon balm is a wonderful fragrant herb for the beginning gardener. It's easy to grow, and lemon balm leaves can be dried and used in crafts with your other scented herbs as well as brewed into a refreshing tea. Small white flowers usually appear at the end of summer.
- Mint: (Mentha) Mint is easy to grow and very hardy, but be warned; mint can rapidly overtake the garden. Whether you choose peppermint, spearmint, or any of the other varieties, the pungent scent of mint is refreshing and clarifying. Mint is a perennial, and will come back stronger and thicker each year in the garden. Flower stalks are white to purple and cap a rapidly growing thicket of glossy green leaves. Brew your mint leaves into a refreshing iced tea.
- Sage: (Salvia officianalis) Like the other fragrant herbs, sage likes a sunny location. Long spikes of purple flowers, ranging from dark blue to a light purple, delight the gardener with summer-long color. Dry leaves for cooking and combine with other herbs for potpourri. Sage grows tall, nearly two feet high, and has velvety textured, patterned leaves.
Plant a fragrant herb garden almost anywhere. All of the plants listed above like full sun, defined as six or more hours daily of direct, unobstructed sunlight. Check your gardening zone to determine when to plant herbs outdoors. Most herbs should be planted after the frost-free date, and some tender herbs, like rosemary, are treated like annuals.
Common uses for fragrant herbs are potpourris, sachets, and flower arrangements. You can even make your own homemade herbal gifts. To dry flowers and leaves, pick and lay them out on a clean towel, sheet, or an old window screen in full sun. Take them inside at night and put outside in the sun until dry. Then, store them in airtight containers, such as old baby food jars or jelly jars until you're ready to use. Many potpourri recipes call for other dried flowers, such as Bachelor's Buttons or roses, so you may want to try interspersing your roses and annuals with fragrant herbs for the ultimate in useful, beautiful gardening.