Help me grow something sweetly smelly on my balcony!
January 20, 2014 3:33 PM   Subscribe

When my neighbor moved out, I inherited a few pots and some soil. I suppose they're more like tubs, really (24 inches long, 10 wide, 7 deep). I have zero gardening skills. The tubs sit on my balcony at the same height as my window, and I would love to grow something that is very fragrant in them. I love the idea of having my window open in the spring and summer, and having a beautiful smell wafting in. I live in Portland, OR, and my balcony faces east. I want to reiterate that I have zero gardening skills, but if given specific instructions, I can keep plants alive. What should I grow? The easier, the better!
posted by 2oh1 to Home & Garden (22 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Lavender grows pretty much anywhere, for any reason. Get some lavender. Basil is another thing that grows pretty much anywhere, for any reason. Get some basil.
posted by turbid dahlia at 3:41 PM on January 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Was also going to say lavender. We had some plants given to us, I planted them in a container in the garden and have done basically nothing to them except water sometimes in the summer, and they're still alive now.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 3:47 PM on January 20, 2014

Rosemary. Hard to kill, smells great.
posted by matildaben at 4:21 PM on January 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

Mint. Practically impossible to kill. Needs zero maintenance.
posted by MsMolly at 4:22 PM on January 20, 2014

Scented perlegoniums!

They're wonderful--smell heavenly, easy to grow, a bit unusual.
posted by BlueHorse at 4:35 PM on January 20, 2014

Not everything that is fragrant will "waft"; the smell won't travel far past the source, and many herbs like mint don't actually smell at all unless you bruise the leaves. To have scent come wafting in the window, I suggest annual wallflower, stocks, and paperwhites. All of these are easy to get from the nursery section and grow fine in our climate. Night-blooming stock and night phlox (Zaluzyanskya) are pretty easy to grow from seed and will provide amazing night-time fragrance. Your pots may be a bit shallow for perrenials, but also consider honeysuckle and star jasmine.
posted by The otter lady at 4:45 PM on January 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

Both rosemary and lavender should grow nicely in Portland as long as you keep them watered.

Scented geraniums are also kind of fun and grow nicely in containers.
posted by leahwrenn at 4:51 PM on January 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Hyacinth--beautiful flowers that smell divine.
posted by I'm Brian and so's my wife! at 5:21 PM on January 20, 2014

I think you should look into jasmine. This will be an easier project if you get at least six hours of morning sun, but I think you should try it even if you don't.

Both common jasmine (Jasminum officinale) and star jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides) are most fragrant in the evening. If you live in a slightly warmer microclimate, star jasmine may be cold hardy in your location; if so, it's dead easy to keep alive. (I live in the Bay Area, and I consider it to be sort of a pest.) If not, you just have to replace it each year, which is not really a big deal.

Jasmine of any sort will provide better smells for wafting than herbs, and a longer fragrant season than bulbs.
posted by purpleclover at 6:22 PM on January 20, 2014 [4 favorites]

Star jasmine smells wonderful and is easy to grow.
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:25 PM on January 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

My balcony actually faces east, southeast, so I get sun all morning up until nearly 2pm. In the summer, it's VERY sunny, but we get a lot of cloudy gray weather in fall, winter and spring.
posted by 2oh1 at 6:26 PM on January 20, 2014

Oh! That's plenty of sun for jasmine.
posted by purpleclover at 6:36 PM on January 20, 2014

I came here to say 'jasmine'!

I had jasmine covering my back fence, and the smell wafting into the house at night was divine.
posted by Salamander at 6:40 PM on January 20, 2014

Jasmine smells great when you walk past it. So do spring bulb flowers, like narcissuses, I think?
posted by aniola at 6:51 PM on January 20, 2014

In my experience, hyacinths are a very strongly scented spring bulb that's easy to grow.
posted by amtho at 7:36 PM on January 20, 2014

Easy to grow really is definitely what I'm looking for. I'm kind of leaning toward lavender or jasmine. Then again, I do have three of those pots/tubs... so maybe I should try something different in each one and see what works best. Scented geraniums too, perhaps? Maybe rosemary instead? Then again, I really would be happier if I just grew one thing in all three. Minimalism really suits me.

I guess I have a bit of research to do!
posted by 2oh1 at 8:11 PM on January 20, 2014

Sweet Alyssum smells yummy also - it's low growing, like a ground cover, with tiny white or purple and white flowers - might be nice around some taller flowers.
posted by aryma at 8:41 PM on January 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Your tubs are large enough to plant multiple items, and you could put a spring-flowering bulb in with a later-flowering second plant. The hyacinths are _really_ easy (just don't overwater), and you could probably get an about-to-bloom plant or two to transfer into your tubs. Put the jasmine in at the same time, and by the time it really gets going, your hyacinths should be finished blooming.
posted by amtho at 9:07 PM on January 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

So, I'm really getting interested in this, having several containers myself. Here are two listings of plants that are both fragrant and suitable for containers (I searched for [fragrance container garden]):

A 129-item database listing from Fine Gardening;

A more approachable, but still long, list grouped by plant type.
posted by amtho at 9:57 PM on January 20, 2014

Fresh rosemary is really amazing for cooking (good for roast lamb, roast potatoes, garlic bread... it's lightyears away from the dried stuff), so that's another benefit.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 2:43 AM on January 21, 2014

Personally I would grow a nice small spice garden for use in cooking and then add some other flowers into the other pot. If you've got some space and a wall to train them on sweet peas are nice and very easy to grow. Be sure to take off the flowers after they've bloomed so you get more, but I would think that a few sweet pea plants surrounded by alyssum would be great and should last you from may until september.
posted by koolkat at 4:14 AM on January 21, 2014

If what you want is sweet smells drifting on the breeze, I thoroughly second aryma in suggesting sweet allyssum. You buy 3 packets of the seeds and sprinkle a packet in each tub. The seeds are tiny; don't try to cover them or arrange them in any way, just sprinkle them. Keep them moist if you have a dry spell, until they sprout up. Then just leave them, watering only if this year is The Drought of the Century. The smell is so wonderful, and they just keep growing all summer, pretty to look at, delicious to smell, and EASY. (I'm assuming your balcony gets rained on; if not, you do need to water, but remember to let the soil dry out between watering sessions.)

Although jasmine grows in the Pacific Northwest, I've never encountered one (including ones planted in my yard) that started to actually put out enough flowers to smell good until they are very well established, i.e. years.

Lavender is super easy to grow, but remember: it comes from a climate that is very dry in the summer, and needs very good drainage. The amount of sun you have will be a help, but be very careful not to overwater. Also make sure the soil in the tubs isn't thick and heavy (you can amend the soil, but it's a lot easier to choose another plant).

I find growing most herbs outdoors in our climate kind of finicky; they don't grow naturally in a marine climate.
posted by kestralwing at 6:35 AM on January 21, 2014

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