By Any Other Name

By Mary Ellen Ellis | November 13, 2022
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by Mary Ellen Ellis
November 13, 2022

The beautiful, natural smells of plants is one of the reasons I love to garden. Yes, a garden can be visually stunning, but for me, the smell often tops the view. There’s nothing better than sitting on the patio in summer, taking it all in. These are some of my favorite plants I grow primarily for smell.


The smell of lavender is one of my absolute favorites. Some people describe it as medicinal, but I don’t. For me lavender is floral and a bit evergreen and distinctive. Nothing else is quite like it. I find the aroma both soothing and invigorating.

People have long used lavender for the benefits of its intoxicating smell. Modern research confirms the benefits: improving sleep, reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety, soothing pain and inflammation, and treating infections.

I grow lavender in a container on my back patio every year, not solely for the smell, but mostly. I don’t grow enough to make harvesting the flowers a practical endeavor. I have, however, learned that the leaves are tasty in cooking. Wherever you might use rosemary, try lavender for a similar but unique flavor.

Sweet Alyssum

This one takes me back to childhood when my mom used it to edge flower beds. The mounds of small white flowers are pretty, but the smell is divine and attracts a lot of pollinators. Sweet alyssum is a favorite annual of mine for the edges of my large containers.

Since the flowers fade midsummer, I intersperse them with other “spill” plants, like wave petunias. They always rebloom in fall, though, providing another opportunity to take in the delicious aroma that reminds me of honey.


This is the smell of spring to me. It’s an intoxicating, sweet, perfumy smell that signals the start of warmer weather. If I could have hyacinth indoors, I would force bulbs in late winter purely for the mood boost. However, I have cats, and this plant is toxic. I have to settle for smelling them when they naturally appear in the garden, usually late April or early May.

I used to enjoy hyacinths only when passing neighbor’s gardens, but finally, last year I planted some bulbs. I await their emergence with great excitement and hope for warm temperatures.

One plant I have yet to grow but hope to one day for its incredible scent, is the rose. Rose actually tops my list of favorite flower smells, but I have always been daunted by the idea of growing it. They have a reputation for being fussy, but other gardeners have told me to ignore this myth. One day I will have a rose bush and I will enjoy the lovely scent.

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