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