Open Monday-Friday (excluding holidays), 9am-2pm.
Just inside the western boundary of Forsyth Park and within the walls of its West Fort is Savannah’s Fragrant Garden, also known as the Garden of Fragrance. Recently renovated and reopened, the garden displays plants whose fragrance and texture are intended to appeal to people with limited sight.
While you are sightseeing in Forsyth Park, don’t miss this small but pretty garden, filled with scented flowers and plants. Quiet and secluded, the garden provides a peaceful respite from the rest of the park, but you should visit in the weekday morning or early afternoon to best enjoy it, as the gates are locked at 2pm.
The Garden of Fragrance should be easy to locate (see on map), its whitewashed walls standing out against the surrounding greenery. You will find the garden just off a footpath lined with mossy live oaks, a right turn from the main path as you are walking down from Forsyth Park’s famous fountain.
The walls, remnants of one of a local military company’s two dummy forts, surround the garden on most of three sides, but it is not entirely hidden from view: railings punctuated by white columns allow a look into the garden from its northern side. On that same side, ornamental iron gates mark the entrance to the Fragrant Garden.
The gates themselves are a historic set brought over from Savannah’s former Union Station. This 1902 Spanish Revival passenger train station was once a Savannah landmark, located on what is now Martin Luther King, Jr Boulevard near the Savannah History Museum and Visitors Center and the Georgia State Railroad Museum.
The demolition of Union Station to make way for Interstate 16, in 1963, coincided with the opening of Savannah’s Fragrant Garden. Members of the Gordonston Garden Club (Gordonston is one of Savannah’s several “other” historic districts, in the city’s east) saved the gates, donating them to the garden in memory of club member Frances Smith Littlefield.
Inside the garden, raised plant beds surround a central lawn, from which a little black fountain adds a restful sound alongside the perfume of the plants. A gazebo-shaded bench provides a place to sit.
The plants in the Garden of Fragrance include Meyer lemon trees (Citrus x meyeri), winter daphne (Daphne odora), mountain witch alder (Fothergilla major), cape jasmine (Gardenia jasminoides), ginger lily, Florida anise (Illicium floridanum, or “stink-bush,” as it is more colorfully known) and varieties of roses, lilies, irises, violets and rhododendrons. Their names are supplied in English, Latin and Braille.
Forsyth Park’s Fragrant Garden was officially dedicated on April 3 1963 (then known as the Fragrant Garden for the Blind in Savannah). Its history dates back to the late 1950s.
Fragrant gardens have been planted for well over two millennia, but became increasingly popular in the 1950s and 1960s as a way to cater to the different needs of visually impaired visitors to parks and botanical gardens. Plants with scented leaves or flowers, or with unusual or pleasing textures, accommodate visitors who cannot fully experience the visual beauty of the rest of the park.
Planning of Savannah’s Fragrant Garden began in 1959, inspired by this trend. Trustees’ Garden Club of Savannah member Jessie Dixon Sayler, having seen a fragrance garden on her travels, first proposed that Savannah too ought to have such a space.
Members of the Garden Club worked on the project for four years, together with local landscape architect Georges Bignault. They constructed the garden within the walls of the old west dummy fort, a relic of Savannah’s military companies’ control over the park extension and almost purpose-made to contain a garden of this sort, with its high walls on three sides keeping out the wind and keeping in the scent of the plants.
Over the next decades the Garden unfortunately fell into disrepair, and began, on account of its sequestered position within the park, to attract drug users. As a remedy to this problem, the gates to the garden were permanently locked. No longer cared for, its plants deteriorated and died.
In the early 2000s, the Trustees’ Garden Club, together with the Park and Tree Department and members of the Junior League, cleaned up and redeveloped the garden according to a redesigned plan by landscape artist John McEllen, new plants replacing those long-dead. The restored Fragrant Garden reopened in 2011.