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The Most Fragrant Plants For Your Garden

Updated on February 26, 2010

When designing a garden, one of my primary prerequisites for amassing my plant selections is that I at least have a few wonderful-smelling plants. These plants need not have beautiful flowers, although when they do it is an added attraction, but their primary appeal is their ability to fill the garden with a variety of fragrances.

When selecting plants for fragrance we often immediately think of herbs or a myriad of annuals and perennials. Often missing from the selection of choices for aromatic additions to the garden are fragrant trees and shrubs.

There are wonderful choices of woody plants that will add fragrance to the garden in all seasons.

Sweetbay Magnolia
Sweetbay Magnolia


There is by no means a lack of excellent sweet-smelling candidates for the spring garden. Some of those that I feel are the best also have several other seasons of ornamental attribute.

One of my favorite shrubs to use is the Virginia Sweetspire, Itea virginica 'Henry's Garnet.' This deciduous shrub reaches a height of 4 to 5 inches at maturity. In the beginning of June, the bottlebrush-like white flowers emerge extending up to 5 inches long. The sweet fragrance lasts for almost a month. In late fall, the foliage turns a rich burgundy purple color, which lasts significantly well into late fall.

Many of the Daphnes have exceptional fragrance, but a drawback is that they only bloom for a short period of time. However, there are exceptions to the rule. Daphne caucasica is a diminutive shrub that only reaches 4 inches tall in heightat maturity. The white flowers emerge in April and can sporadically bloom into November. Even if there are only a few flowers on the plant, the fragrance can be strong. This plant is wonderful as part of a small garden or "tucked" amongst the plantings near any entryway.


During the long hot months of the summer, fragrance adds an inviting effect to a garden. The Sweetbay magnolia, (Magnolia virginiana) is a great patio plant. Throughout the summer the 4-inch creamy white flowers emit a lemony fragrance. The fragrance smell can be enticing, especially in the evenings. This native tree can be grown as a single or multi-trunked tree. It reaches grows to be 30 inches tall at maturity and is one of the few magnolias that can withstand moderately moist soil.

Blooming in July and August, Clethra alnifolia (summersweet or sweet pepperbush) provides a strong floral show a great fragrance. The bottlebrush-like flowers stand erect atop the plant's foliage. Reaching no more than 5 inches tall, it can be effectively used in masses or a single plant in the smaller garden. Some excellent selections exist such as 'Ruby Spice' with a strong pink flower, or 'Hummingbird' reaching only 2 inches at maturity. In the fall the deciduous foliage turns a bright golden yellow.


Two shrubs with somewhat hidden flowers but unequaled fragrance come to mind for the fall garden. In September, Elaeagnus pungens fills the garden with its fragrance, and then, in mid-October, Osmanthus heterophyllus is a pungent reminder that the growing season has not quite ended.


Many witch hazels bloom in the winter months. One of my favorites is Hamamelis x intermedia 'Arnold Promise.' This large shrub, or small tree, reaches a height of 15 inches at maturity and has a distinct vase-shaped habit. From late February to mid-March, the star-like flowers appear. The thin and strap-like petals uncurl as sun comes out, even on the coldest days. The bright golden flowers have a wonderful fragrance. The plant is best positioned with an evergreen background. Its branches can also be cut for indoor winter display.

One of the most fragrant plants in the winter landscape is the winter sweet, Chimonanthus praecox. Blooming in early January, it proves that a garden can truly have plants in flower throughout the year. The pendent bell-shaped flowers are a creamy yellow. This multi-stemmed shrub will reach a height of 10 to 12 inches at maturity. There is also a cultivar 'Luteus,' which has bright yellow flowers.

An excellent groundcover with shiny, narrow, evergreen foliage is the sweetbox, Sarcococca hookeriana. Spreading by underground stems, the sweetbox will eventually create a large mass. Reaching only 12 inches tall, it is the perfect plant for a diminutive space. The flowers are white and somewhat hidden by the foliage, but the intensity of the fragrance in early March more that makes up for the lack of floral display. This harbinger of spring is best planted as an edging plant along the walkway leading up to a door.


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      Xavier 4 years ago

      Hi Renee,I am delighted with your pojtecrs! like you, I am doing similar things. You can check it out on my blog (mainly gardening but, I include some of my DIY pojtecrs as well). Just click on the label DIY. Thanks. I joined your site and klicked +1 Have a nice day!

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      Badu 4 years ago

      I would love to win one as i have twins and they are using them at school i have a old apple cpmuoter as they use apple at school and so i got one out of cash conferters but they are not around any more and so i would only have to find one more if i won a ipad. cheers