Smell is the most powerful of our five senses. When we take in odors through our nose, smell receptors deliver them directly to our brain. This requires no interpretation on our part. Memories and emotions are triggered in an instant. I can still remember the smells of my childhood kitchen when my mother baked bread. I can also recall the salty smell of the Atlantic Ocean the first time she took me to the shore. Those boyhood memories seem like yesterday. The imprint of smells can last a lifetime.      

Fragrance is the only non-negotiable consideration for anything that Rachel and I plant in our garden. When we made the first choices for our rose garden, form and color were all we cared about. We didn’t realize that so many popular roses have no scent at all. It goes against every notion of what a rose should be. A rose without fragrance is like a piano that makes no sound. We have no room for non-fragrant flowers.

Aromas can change our mood. They can enliven and excite us, or make us feel calm and relaxed. Any garden can become a fragrance garden. Whether you prefer sweet and floral scents or savory herbs, there really are no limits. Rachel and I have tried to situate our garden so that no particularly strong scent overpowers another. Our backyard deck is enclosed by a privacy fence. The stillness allows the fragrances to collect and intensify. We have two potted citrus trees (lemon and lime) which have a faintly floral essence. We also have potted hibiscus and petunias on the deck. We like to keep the fragrances muted because we often eat outside. We grow herbs in two half whiskey barrels just below our kitchen window. We also have two citronella plants right next to them. Citronella has a lemony scent that goes well with rosemary and lavender. Each time I pass by the lavender I brush it with my hands and rub it on my clothes.  There’s a park bench in front of the barrels that reminds me of a private garden I used to visit in New York City. 

The smell of tomatoes takes me back to the carefree summers of my adolescence. I ate vine-ripened tomatoes until my tongue was sore from the acidic juices. Rachel and I like to rub our hands across our tomato vines in anticipation of their arrival. If we could bottle that scent, winters wouldn’t seem so dreary. 

As much as we love roses, gardenias are the queens of fragrance. Their sweet, heady perfume is our favorite. Additionally, these heavenly scented flowers have a lush green foliage. We grow ours in a container that is easy to move where we sit in the garden. There are two varieties of gardenias that are rated cold hardy for zone six. I’m not sure if we can get away with growing them here, but next year we’re going to try.  

So much of what we do in the garden is meant to be visually appealing. A garden should be a total sensory experience. Tasty fruits and vegetables complement savory and floral scents. Visually stimulating colors and contrasts make your landscape pop. Succulents add texture. Birdsongs and wind chimes create a soothing, auditory background. Create your own private oasis.

Rachel and Ivan Minnis are avid gardeners. They live in Leavenworth. For more information, visit The Minnis Rose Garden on Facebook. Contact them at