by Lisa Watters-Lain, Arizona’s garden gal, Watters Garden Center
Wet dog, funky socks, musty books, and the-ever present smells of teenage boys are sometimes more than a house can bear. Houseplants get a lot of lip service for their air-cleaning properties, but let’s face it, sometimes your home needs something more than their gentle air-purifying effects.
Grocery store sprays can mask unpleasant household odors, but what’s really in all those liquids, and are they toxic or not? Aromatic houseplants may be the healthier way to keep rooms lightly scented.
A living plant in the house guarantees healthier air and a pleasant, mood-enhancing environment. Fragrant houseplants are easily adaptable to their surroundings and readily grow in the same conditions as unscented plants. It’s time to switch those artificial air fresheners for the soul-satisfying natural fragrances of these plants:
Gardenia – The intense fragrance of gardenia blooms elicit strong emotions about this unique flower. Truly an emphatic love-or-hate reaction! If you fall into the gardenia fragrance “love it” category, find a place in your home with at least four hours of bright sunlight each day; a south- or east-facing window is ideal. Keeping humidity levels high around your gardenia will help the glossy dark green foliage to stay healthy, which is key to blossom production. Gardenias also prefer cool nighttime temps, between 50 and 60 degrees, so an Arizona room or back bedroom is a perfect location.
Citrus – A dwarf citrus tree is just what the doctor ordered to chase away winter blues with its sweetly fragrant blossoms followed by vitamin-rich fruit. Choose your favorite dwarf variety and watch it grow to a very manageable 5-foot height. All citruses need direct light of a south-facing window, so you may have to change your light fixtures to a full-spectrum daylight bulb in darker rooms. Roll the plants outdoors during the growing season, and watch them really thrive.
Jasmine – Whether trained on a ring like a topiary, trailing from a basket or scrambling up a small trellis, the fragrance of jasmine is utter intoxication. Water jasmines moderately, but provide as much light as possible. Again, a full-spectrum light source may be necessary if you don’t have a spot with the requisite six hours of sun. To trigger blooms in subsequent seasons, the plants need cool evening temperatures. When you see dozens of pink buds form in the autumn, you’ll know sweet-scented days are ahead.
Orchid – Some orchids have more to offer than exotic beauty and long-lasting blooms. Several varieties, like Twinkle and Hawaiian Sunset, are highly fragrant. The Sharry Baby orchid is said to emit a chocolate fragrance. An easy-to-grow orchid that has a strong perfume is the Brassavola nodosa, which is especially sweet in the evening. Other orchids have little or no fragrance, so it’s best to purchase your orchid when it’s in bloom and give it the sniff test. Most people agree that orchid scents are most noticeable in humid conditions, which complements their growing environments.
Scented geranium – Although the foliage of the scented geranium does not emit a detectable fragrance unless the leaves are brushed, bruised or crushed, the resulting aroma is so sublime you’ll find excuses to touch this plant often. An added benefit is that the leaves of scented geraniums are edible; add their volatile oils to enhance flavored sugars, breads and pastries. You can choose from scents like apricot, ginger, nutmeg, pineapple, rose and chocolate mint. Keep a few scented geraniums in the kitchen to give yourself an aromatherapy treatment every day. All scented geraniums grow well outside when the risk of frost is past.
Bridal wreath (Stephanotis) – This plant is most fragrant while the delicate blossoms are attached. Extremely easy to grow, the plant needs only a bit of light and moderate water. Bridal wreath can have a vining habit in the more shaded parts of the house, so provide some support to lift those fragrant flowers nearer to nose height.
Lavender – All herbs have their unique scents that contribute to their culinary and medicinal value, but lavender is in a class unto itself when it comes to fragrance. The spicy, clean fragrance of lavender infuses our favorite scented products from soaps to perfumes, candles and drawer sachets. Best of all, the aroma is just as strong in the foliage as in the flowers, so sparse flowering won’t result in a shortage of the herb’s wonderful perfume. French lavender makes for an exceptional houseplant, as it flowers continuously in bright light. All lavender plants prefer sandy soil and moderate to dry irrigation.
There you have my top choices for fragrant plants in your home. Watters Garden Center is stocked full of these and other fragrant plants, and I enjoy helping local gardeners choose just the right plants for each room in their homes. Check out the 42 Best-Smelling Flowers for your outdoor gardens as well.