Making scents of spring

There is more to spring than just flowers blooming and migrant birds pit-stopping at our fountains. Spring smells good.

And if you’ve planned it right, the season can smell even better.

It seems like every day there are new scents in the wind: the smell of orange blossoms from a neighbor’s yard, wafts of Sweet Alyssum that reseeds every year, the essence of lavender warmed by the sun.

And you don’t need to stick a nose into these plants to enjoy them. Rather, a gentle breeze can pick up their scents and carry them to where you are.

One of my all-time favorites is Michelia figo — a dull-looking shrub akin to privet. Planted near my bedroom window, it fills the backyard with deep vanilla scents that drift into the bedroom when the window is open.

Speaking of privet, I like this smell, too. Some people find it distasteful, or too earth-like, but it smells like California to me. Or rather, a smell I remember growing up with that meant summer was coming soon.

Gardenias bloom better when they are planted away from the house. They need temperature swings to bloom correctly and benefit from deep darkness at night. House lights can throw them off. Planning could mean that you plant your gardenias upwind from where you would like to enjoy them. If the most frequent breeze blows east where you live, plant them away from the house on the west side.

Star jasmine is another plant that can scent a yard. But be careful. These plants can smother the structure of your house if left unpruned. And they need frequent pruning. Weeds, really.

The night-blooming jasmines also smell heavenly, but they tend to have weedy habits. These could be good choices for a side yard, where you can open your windows to the scents but not have to look at their straggly forms.

Another all-time favorite for scenting an entire yard is Salvia clevelandii, a native to California. It’s not the smell of the flowers that drifts on the wind, but the foliage, which can make an entire backyard smell like you’re somewhere else.

Plan to plant this where it can get warmed in full sun. Mid-afternoon is when it smells its best.

Scented pelargoniums also can do the trick, especially if you plant them where you are likely to brush against the foliage when you walk buy.

And don’t forget the walk-on plants. You can plant all kinds of scented ground covers between stepping stones. Try thyme and pennyroyal.


Strewing herbs was the medieval custom of sprinkling scented plants in the doorways of homes and lodges to bring the scents of the outdoors in.

You can practice this custom by strewing chopped or torn herbs on the ground around party tables, where the bride walks (if you’re having a wedding) or along garden paths.

Use rosemary, thyme, scented pelargoniums, lavender, rose petals, lemon grass, mints, costmary, juniper, fennel and more.


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