How to Design a Sensory Garden Part 2: Smell

Leah Heiser, Flowerscape Director

This post is the second of a 5-part series to offer suggestions on designing a sensory garden. The flower suggestions here will appeal to the sensory garden design for smell.

Scents are especially effective as reminders of past experience–more so than cues from other senses.

Smell, unlike sound, sight, or touch, get routed through your olfactory bulb, the smell-analyzing region in your brain that’s closely connected to brain regions that handle memory and emotion.

Aromatic Garden Variety Suggestions

The Metro Adopt-A-Site in Kenmore with Dianthus plantings. The popular pink and white “Super Parfait” Dianthus biennial, shown in front, may appeal to all senses, even though a hybrid. See more Dianthus facts below.


Dot your landscape with aromatic trees, shrubs and flowers to make stepping into your garden extra special.

Some of the more fragrant trees include: Crab Apples, Magnolia, Lilac and Vibrnum. Imagine a fragrant lilac planted near or under your bedroom window. What a wonderful way to wake up!

Fragrant shrubs include: Mock Orange (Philadelphus), Sweetshrub (Calycanthus), Summersweet (Clethra alnifolia). These choices are great for attracting pollinators.

Another frangrant shrubs is the Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), which is ideal for wet sites and tough soil.

Perennials such as the sun loving Lavender, Peonies and Dianthus and shade-loving  Lily of the Valley and Woodland Hyacinths offer fragrance as well. Perennials, unlike annuals, live more than two years.

Some Dianthus Facts

Dianthus come in many varieties, and although some are hybrids (cross-pollinated), they seem to keep their clove-like fragrance but may not bloom all season, even after deadheading, like non-hybrids. Therefore, they should be planted around other plants that bloom consistently. Still some of the popular variegated varieties will appeal to all of your senses, with interesting color, ruffly petals that are also edible, and some pollinator attraction.

A Caution on Buying Roses

Be careful when you purchase roses. Many have lost their fragrance over the last half-century as hybridizers pursued traits such as brighter colors, bigger flowers, compact growth or long stems for cutting. So before you purchase a rose for your sensory garden, make sure to take it away from other plants and smell it before you buy it.

Visit previous post: How to Design A Sensory Garden Part 1: Sight

View next post: How to Design A Sensory Garden Part 3: Sound

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