Fragrant Garden Plants


Tall garden phlox are reliably fragrant summer perennials.

For the past couple of years, cold stormy springs blitzed our lilacs, of which we have many.  That heady fragrance was sorely missed around the Keith household. We were spoiled for fragrance.  But we were able to hang on until our other flowers and shrubs bloomed and took up the slack. We did lose some lilacs during that period, but we have had other, more catastrophic losses (dairy cows in the Jerusalem artichokes, for instance or the family dogs making off with the guest of honor on Thanksgiving morning, but leaving the turnips).

When the first spring flowers appear in March, the soil is often too wet and cold to be planted, so like all good things we have to wait. But we can stock up on the wonderful new varieties offered by local and national nurseries.

Bearing the title of this piece in mind, what to buy for a fragrance garden?  See some suggestions below.

Fragrant Shrubs

‘Beauty of Moscow’ is a double-flowered lilac with pale pink and white flowers.
  • In general, lilacs (Syringa species and hybrids, USDA Hardiness Zones 3-8) can reach heights of 10-12 feet. Three especially fragrant varieties are ‘Beauty of Moscow’, ‘Bloomerang Purple’, and ‘Josee’. They are easy to grow so long as there is plenty of sun and the soil is alkaline and well-drained. The double-flowered ‘Beauty of Moscow’ has white blooms rising from pale pink buds. ‘Bloomerang’ lilacs (Zones 3-7) offer a richly fragrant purple lilac that blooms in spring and again in late summer or fall. The compact ‘Josee’ is a pink-flowered lilac that only reaches 4-6 feet.
  • Korean spice viburnum (Viburnum carlesii) is a compact shrub up to 6 feet in height. Flowers have an incredibly spicy aroma plus showy pink clusters of flower buds that develop into whiter flowers that attract hummingbirds and butterflies. The fruits are black berries and in fall, the leaves turn scarlet. Some sources consider them invasive, but most do not. Prune one time to remove dead branches or restrict growth, then leave it alone.
The flowers of Korean spice viburnum are some of the most sweetly scented of spring.
  • Roses (Rosa hybrids) epitomize garden fragrance, but there are so many varieties put out by so many growers, a list of the available cultivars would fill a small book. We have been purchasing roses from the David C. Austin Co. since we discovered them. Austin (now deceased) was a British rose breeder and writer. The company offers trademark English roses, and shrub and climbing roses for the garden. ’Rosa Boscobel’ is an English shrub rose of medium height with a heady, complex scent. It produces large, salmon-pink flowers throughout the growing season (Zones 5-9). ‘Rosa Munstead Wood’ is a crimson shrub rose with a rich, fruity aroma. It blooms for most of the growing season (Zones 5-9). They come in light purple, deep purple, and pink.  They are also disease-resistant. Prune this group right after they finish blooming.  Check local nurseries, or go to Proven Winners online.
David Austin roses are bred to flower beautifully and resist diseases.

Annual and Perennial Garden Flowers

Lavender is one of the best garden flowers for fragrance.
  • Lavender (Zones 5-10) These Old World natives are a natural addition to any fragrance garden. A summer bloomer (pink, blue, purple and white) that likes full sun and they are not too fussy about soil. Pollinators love them. (1-3 feet high)
  • Carnations (Dianthus hybrids, Zones 5-9) these well-known perennial flowers will add a welcome spice fragrance to your garden. They bloom in late spring, so you may want to plant another, summer-blooming species as well.  Flowers come in shades of red, pink, and white. They prefer full sun but can tolerate partial shade.  They like alkaline soil, so amend your garden with Black Gold® Natural & Organic Ultra Outdoor Planting Mix. Carnations are said to be toxic to humans, dogs, and cats. (18 inches high).
  • Woodland tobacco (Nicotiana sylvestris) is a re-seeding annual. Its moth-attracting flowers are white, long, tubular flowers, and most fragrant in the evening. The summer bloomer will self-seed if the flowers are allowed to go to seed. They like part to full sun and rich, well-drained soil. Bear in mind that this species is very toxic to humans and pets (3-5 feet high).
  • Garden phlox (Phlox paniculata, Zones 4-8) is a tall (2-4 feet), summer-blooming perennial that grows in neat clumps. The flowers come in shades of red, white, pink, and purple. The North American native grows in full to partial sunlight and needs good drainage and average moisture to thrive.
Woodland tobacco is a dramatic annual whose flowers emit enchanting night fragrance.

This is just a sample of the fragrant plants you might choose for your garden. You might also want to plant fragrant herbs as the border. Container plantings could also work well. Some tender species like lavender could be planted in containers and moved indoors when it gets cold.

Black Gold® offers the best in soil amendments and potting mixes for your garden, keep it in mind wherever and whenever you are planning all of your gardening projects.

Fragrant Garden Flowers to Soothe the Senses

Fragrant Garden Flowers: Lilac (top left), clove pinks (bottom left), honeysuckle (bottom right).

Close your eyes and step into the garden. What do you smell? If you plant for aroma, you can be guided through your garden blindfolded and know what plants are there. Honeysuckle, hyacinths, lavender, and roses are as aromatically distinctive as they are visually distinctive. Fragrant garden flowers like these soothe the senses and provide a feeling of respite and calm.

Flowers are scented to lure pollinators from afar to ensure blooms are visited, pollinated, and seeds set for reproduction. Not all flowers are scented because not all pollinators have a sense of smell. In general, bees, bats, butterflies, and moths detect scents and are attracted to odorous flowers. Flowers that are night-pollinated, such as moonflower and woodland tobacco, are some of the most fragrant because night pollinators rely more heavily on smell. But, some daytime flowers, like clove pinks, honeysuckles, lilacs, and musk roses, are also highly aromatic.

Fragrant garden flowers evoke happy memories and soothe the senses. If a fragrant garden is important to you, here are some seasonal blooms that emit their enjoyable fragrance into the air to fill a space.

Scented Spring Flowers

Spice Baby™ is a compact Korean Spice Viburnum. (Image thanks to Proven Winners)

Korean Spice Viburnum (Viburnum carlesii, USDA Hardiness Zones 5-8) – Viburnums are shrubs that are typically spring bloomers with flower clusters that offer some fragrance, but Korean spice viburnum has a spicy-sweet aroma that passersby can’t miss. Uncultivated forms reach 6 to 10 feet, but there are smaller types suited to less spacious gardens. Spice Baby™ is one that reaches between 4 and 5.5 feet and has large clusters of pinkish-white flowers that will fill the air with scent in early to mid-spring.

Eternal Fragrance Daphne (Daphne × transatlantica Eternal Fragrance, Zones 6-9) – After smelling this small, semi-evergreen shrub for the first time, I had to have one. Its clusters of palest pink flowers bloom over a long period in spring and smell so sweetly they cannot be resisted. 

Goldflame honeysuckle has pink, orange, and gold flowers that smell great.

Goldflame Honeysuckle (Lonicera x heckrottii ‘Goldflame’, Zones 4-9) – The classic Japanese honeysuckle is pretty and wonderfully fragrant but an invasive brute that takes over gardens and wildlands. There are others, like the fantastically beautiful and fragrant ‘Goldflame’, which have it all without being intrusive. If you are looking for a nonstop vine for fragrance, it blooms from spring to fall. Just be sure to offer it space and prune it back as needed because its vines can reach up to 15 feet. Hummingbirds and moths visit the flowers.

Hyacinths bloom in early spring, emitting the nicest fragrance imaginable.

Hyacinth (Hyacinthus orientalis, Zones 4-8) – Traditional hyacinths appear in early spring with their colorful, upright, 1-foot stems covered with fragrant, tubular flowers of orange, pink, rose-red, violet-blue, white, or yellow. Plant these bulbs in fall for a colorful spring show and aromatic treat.

Bloomerang® Dwarf Pink is a newer reblooming lilac. (Image thanks to Proven Winners)

Lilac (Syringa hybrids, Zones 3-8) – Everyone loves the smell of lilacs, and the old-fashioned varieties have some of the best fragrance. (Click here to learn more about growing and enjoying traditional lilacs.) Some newer types also have extra fragrance. The spring-flowering Scentara® Double Blue is one of these with its clusters of double, lilac-blue flowers that emit the best lilac smell. The reblooming, pink-flowered lilac Bloomerang® Dwarf Pink is one that just reaches 3 feet and also offers a fine fragrance.

Lily-of-the-Valley is toxic, so be sure to plant it away from children and pets.

Lily-0f-the-Valley (Convallaria majalis, Zones 2-9) – The upside of shade-loving lily-of-the-valley is that it has one of the most renowned scents of all. Still, gardeners must understand that it is a fast-spreading groundcover before adding it to the garden. Once planted, it is difficult to remove. But, it is beautiful, especially when its curved wands of nodding flowers bloom in spring scenting the entire yard.

Scented Summer Flowers

New clove pink varieties are reliable rebloomers that flower through summer.

Clove Pink (Dianthus hybrids, Zones 5-9) – Old-fashioned pinks that smell of sweet clove are back in fashion. Popular plant vendors are breeding new types that bloom for longer but look like they came out of a 1900s flower catalog. The English Devon Cottage™ ‘Pinball Wizard’ is one with cuttable, carnation-like flowers with a powerful sweet clove fragrance. Those in Proven Winners’ Fruit Punch® series are also highly fragrant, long-blooming, and come in many grand colors.

Sweet peas are easy to grow but prefer milder summer weather.

Sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus) – Commonly planted from seed as spring annuals, sweet peas grow best where summers are milder and don’t have scorching temperatures. Their flowers come in lots of colors and emit a distinct sweet fragrance that bees love. They are most fragrant in the evening, so plant them near a porch or patio to be enjoyed. Sweet pea lovers should try the Sweet Pea ‘Heirloom Fragrance’ Seed Collection from Select Seeds.

Lavender smells fantastic even when it isn’t in bloom.

Lavender (Lavandula species) – All lavenders have fragrant foliage and flowers, but species vary widely in hardiness. I favor compact, hardier forms, such as Munstead (Lavandula angustifolia ‘Munstead’, Zones 5-9) with its wonderfully fragrant lavender-blue flowers, and Hidcote (Lavandula angustifolia ‘Hidcote’, Zones 5-10), which has silvery foliage and lovely lavender flowers. Be sure to grow them in very well-drained soil and full sun. (Click here to learn more about growing different lavenders.)

‘Gertrude Jekyll’ is an award-winning rose with outstanding fragrance.

Roses (Rosa hybrids) – When choosing a rose for fragrance, keep in mind that not all are fragrant. Many hybrids bred for disease resistance, and repeat bloom lack the classic scent that we associate with roses. English roses with a strong fragrance, particularly David Austin Roses, are some of my favorites. The flouncy ‘Gertrude Jekyll‘ (Zones 4-11) is a highly-scented, reblooming pink variety that BBC Gardener’s World viewers voted as England’s favorite rose. It’s a good one for any garden. (Click here to learn how to care for roses organically.)

Gulf Winds Mix sweet alyssum is powerfully scented. (Image by Jessie Keith)

Sweet Alyssum (Lobularia maritima) – Named for its honey and spice-scented flower clusters that bloom from spring to fall, sweet alyssum is a favorite bedding and container plant. It is versatile, low and spreading, and can withstand the cool temperatures of spring and fall as well as the heat and drought of summer. The common form has white flowers, but there are also varieties with lavender, rose, apricot, and purple flowers. The seed-grown varieties in the Gulf Winds Mix have very highly scented flowers.

Scented Late Summer and Fall Flowers

Moonflowers are huge and open in the evening.

Moon Flower (Ipomoea alba) – Famous for use in moon gardens, moonflower vines are tropical and commonly grown as annuals in temperate zones. They are started from seed and begin to bloom in late summer and continue into fall. The huge, white flowers reach up to 7 inches across and bloom at night to attract the moths that pollinate them. The evening is also when they emit their sweet fragrance. Vines can reach up to 15 feet, so offer them a strong fence or trellis to twine up.

Woodland Tobacco (Nicotiana sylvestris) – Award-winning woodland tobacco is a tall annual reaching up to 4 feet that bears loads of long-tubed white flowers that attract long-tongued moths. Like moonflower, they begin to emit their strong, sweet fragrance in the evening, so plant them where their night scent can be best enjoyed. Woodland tobacco tolerates full to partial sun.

(If you are interested in house plants with fragrance, read our article The Best Fragrant House Plants.)

Growing Scented Flowers and Shrubs

Aside from lily-of-the-valley, all of these plants are sun-lovers that will grow well in fertile soil with good drainage. We recommend amending garden beds with Black Gold Garden Soil or Garden Compost Blend to increase soil fertility. Keep them moderately irrigated after planting and feed them with quality fertilizer for flowering plants. (Click here for detailed steps for planting shrubs.) Container-grown annuals, like sweet alyssum, grow best in all-purpose potting soils with good drainage, such as Black Gold All Purpose Potting Mix.

Plant some of these fragrant garden flowers to make those warm summer days and nights even more enjoyable. Many also make superb cut flowers for indoor enjoyment.

Plants For the Winter Garden

The fragrant flowers of wintersweet can withstand even the harsh winter weather.

In the Pacific Northwest, the garden in winter can be a bit bleak. I know mine certainly is. However, the more I talk to other gardeners and visit other gardens at this time of year, the more color I see. Often the color is not from flowers, but from bark, foliage and stems.

For the last few years, I am been striving to add more plants in my garden that will provide some winter color. I have learned that it is best to plant them in a location where we can see them from our windows. Planting them in the back garden is a waste since we are not often there in winter to see them.

Sarcococca - Copy
Sweetbox is an appealing evergreen with very fragrant winter flowers.

In addition to looking for winter color, this is also a good time of year to walk through the garden and see if there are ‘pockets’ around plants where the water has settled and is not draining. In these areas, I like to add Black Gold Soil Natural and Organic Soil Builder to increase aeration and drainage and add needed organic matter for the coming year. A phrase that I often hear is “more plants die from winter wet than winter cold.” This is certainly the case for many garden plants, such as salvias.


For winter color, a new plant (to me) that can provide golden chartreuse color to the garden is Thuja orientalis ‘Franky Boy’. We often think of Thuja as being large plants, but this one just grows 4-6 inches per year and will only reach about 3 feet in ten years, so it can be used in a garden border. It has thread-like foliage and an upright ball shape. For the opposite color extreme, a silver evergreen conifer is Abies koreana ‘Silberlocke’. This outstanding, slow-growing plant has curved green needles that show silvery-white undersides. I have had one in a pot for several years, and it looks great at any time of the year.

Abies 'Silberlocke'
Abies ‘Silberlocke’ is a lovely winter evergreen with silvery needles.

Sweet Box

I should not overlook some of the shrubs that are already in bloom in the January garden. Sweet box (Sarcococca ruscifolia) is one. It is a very easy-to-grow small evergreen shrub that produces a small, sweetly fragrant, creamy white flower in winter that perfume the area around it. I’ve often had visitors walk past my plants and all of a sudden will detect the fragrance and not know where it is coming from. Sweet Box likes some shade from the hot afternoon summer sun and likes organic-rich soil, so be sure to add Black Gold Garden Compost at planting time.


Recent snow and ice provided opportunities for gardeners to take some unique photos. Oregon State Community Horticulturist, Neil Bell, sent me this photo of his wintersweet (Chimonanthus praecox) with its flowers encased in ice. He reported that the ice did not seem to bother them, and once it had melted, the flowers went back to scenting the garden. Wintersweet can grow to 10-12 feet and produces winter flowers on leafless branches. If space considerations are an issue, it can easily be pruned to a smaller stature.

Thuja orientalis Franky Boy
The golden-green Thuja orientalis ‘Franky Boy’ is a new dwarf conifer for my garden.

So, while at first glance we might think the winter garden is bleak, it does not have to be. Check out your local garden centers now for plants showing bloom and/or color. I am noticing that many local garden centers are grouping slow-growing conifers together to show the array of colors available. Gardening in the Pacific Northwest is a year-round adventure!