Top fra­grant house­plants

If you want to make your house smell nice, grow one of these fra­grant plants for a nat­u­ral scent.

NZ Gardener - 365 Days of Flowers - - Fragrant Flowers -

From warm and spicy to sweet and flo­ral, many in­door plants ex­ude a sweet per­fume that will scent an en­tire room. Hy­acinths are a clas­sic ex­am­ple, but there are many, more per­ma­nent, plants that make the cut.


In many parts of New Zealand, gar­de­nias are strictly in­door plants. They don't like frost, wet feet or al­ka­line soil and can be a dis­ap­point­ment when they throw one of their trade­mark yel­low-leaf sulks. But they're hard to beat on the fra­grance front. Smelling richly of trop­i­cal fruit, they de­fine the no­tion of trop­i­cal per­fume. For up­keep, water plants reg­u­larly – dry gar­de­nias of­ten drop their buds – but make sure the water drains away. If your tap­wa­ter is hard, use rain­wa­ter in­stead. Hard water has high min­eral con­tent (mainly cal­cium – in the form of lime­stone and chalk – and mag­ne­sium ions, which makes the water al­ka­line). Use water at room tem­per­a­ture and feed fort­nightly with a plant food for acid lovers.


The flow­ers of scented pelargo­ni­ums (aka scented gera­ni­ums) are much more del­i­cate than their un­scented cousins but they have one ad­van­tage over the other – their leaves are highly fra­grant. De­pend­ing on which va­ri­ety you choose, the leaves may waft scents of le­mon, lime, rose, nut­meg, ginger, pep­per­mint, or some other del­i­cacy. The clas­sic pep­per­mint gera­nium ( Pe­largo­nium to­men­to­sum), for ex­am­ple, has sprays of dainty white flow­ers and lovely minty fo­liage; rose gera­nium ( Pe­largo­nium grave­olens) has pink-mauve flow­ers and a strong rose aroma that's emit­ted when the leaves are brushed against or crushed. Rose gera­nium es­sen­tial oil comes from this plant.

Scented gera­ni­ums grow well in pots in­doors or out, or in the ground in frost-free lo­ca­tions. Don't over­wa­ter as they dis­like wet feet. Place in sun or bright light.

Prune your plants ev­ery year to keep them com­pact, but don't throw away the trim­mings. You can eas­ily grow pelargo­ni­ums from cut­tings to dou­ble your stock or give as gifts to friends. Use the leaves in tussie-mussies or small posies. The stems of fo­liage last 2-3 weeks.


The fab­u­lous and fra­grant frangi­pani (plume­ria) blooms from about midNovem­ber to about mid-march, with the cream-yel­low flower be­ing the most com­mon and the most fra­grant. It's the per­fect in­door plant (or grow out­doors against a north-fac­ing brick wall in a frost-free spot), with its long-last­ing de­li­ciously scented blooms. Make sure plants get six hours of sun­light a day, though, as sun­light trig­gers flow­er­ing. Water well over sum­mer but rarely dur­ing win­ter. Start again as new leaves ap­pear. Don't fer­tilise dur­ing dor­mancy. Dur­ing growth, di­luted liq­uid fish fer­tiliser or sea­weed so­lu­tion is good. Out­doors, mulch around the trunk (but not right up to the trunk) to keep roots cool in sum­mer and warm in win­ter, and help re­tain mois­ture. Bear in mind, though, that frangi­pa­nis hate wet feet. If plant­ing in heavy soil, add gravel or stones to the hole to help drainage.

Some trees pro­duce ae­rial roots. When these are es­tab­lished, prune the branch be­low the roots and pot up the cut­ting.

Trees go into dor­mancy by shed­ding their leaves. Un­less you're in the north, move pot­ted trees into shel­ter in au­tumn.

Plants re­spond well to prun­ing in late win­ter, but re­mem­ber, flow­er­ing doesn't oc­cur on new wood, so ex­ten­sive prun­ing means no flow­ers.


Scent your house with a fra­grant orchid, like the ex­otic mil­to­nia (pic­tured). The flow­ers, which last 4-6 weeks, have a de­li­cious cit­rusy per­fume. Cat­t­leyas are showier and their fra­grant blooms larger. One of the most fra­grant species is Cat­t­leya walk­e­ri­ana. Many orchids in the On­cidi­inae sub­tribe are scented too, in par­tic­u­lar the on­cid­i­ums, with some smelling of choco­late, vanilla or bub­blegum. Zy­gopetalum have a sweet, slightly musky per­fume that per­me­ates the house for many weeks, and den­dro­bi­ums re­lated to Den­dro­bium kingianum and Den­dro­bium specio­sum have good scent too. One small plant can scent a whole room on a warm day. Buy plants from spe­cial­ist orchid grow­ers.

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