Fragrant Plants

When designing a garden, we often think of flower color as the guiding principle in selecting plants.  All too often we forget the powerful impact that fragrance has.  Of all the senses, fragrance holds a stronger connection to memory than any of the other senses, even sight.  Fragrance should be one of the key factors in selecting plants and placing them in the ideal location should also be taken into consideration.


Regardless of what type of garden you have, large or small, sunny or shady, modern or traditional, there is no shortage of options for fragrant plants.  Many fragrant plants are so versatile that they can be used to suit many garden styles.  Roses, for example, can be used in a straight row for a formal garden, dotted along the border in a cottage garden or in a large terra cotta pot in a Mediterranean courtyard garden.


While Spring and Summer have the greatest abundance of scented plants, Autumn and Winter also have a number of fragrant plants to lift the spirit during the cold short days.  Seasonal fragrance includes Spring’s Wisteria and Lilac, Summer’s Gardenia and Lavender, Autumn’s Angel’s Trumpet and Chrysanthemum, and Winter’s Witch-Hazel and Winter Daphne.  Adding to the mix is the time of day (or night) the flower is most fragrant.  Lavender never goes unnoticed on a hot summer day, while Angel’s Trumpet is notorious for perfuming the evening air.

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Every category of plants – annuals, perennials, vines, shrubs, and trees  – offers the gardener choices for fragrance.  Shrubs, however, typically form the “bones” of the garden.  These “work horses” do double duty when they combine fragrant flowers with a strong visual foundation.  Remember, fragrant flowering shrubs are always part of a well-designed fragrance garden.  Several great fragrant garden shrubs are as follows.


  • Angel’s Trumpet (Brugmansia ‘Charles Grimaldi’)
  • Banana Shrub (Michelia figo)
  • Box-Leaf Azara (Azara microphylla)
  • Daphne (Daphne odora)
  • Bush Anemone (Carpenteria californica)
  • California Lilac (Ceanothus spp.)
  • Fragrant Tea Olive (Osmanthus fragrans)
  • Gardenia (Gardenia jasminoides)
  • Japanese Pittosporum (Pittosporum tobria)
  • Mexican Orange Blossom (Choisya ternata)
  • Mock Orange (Philadelphus coronarius)
  • Sweet Box (Sarcoccoca ruscifolia)
  • Viburnum (Viburnum x burkwoodii)
  • Winter Hazel (Corylopsis glabrescens)
  • Witch Hazel (Hamamelis mollis)


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Finding the right location for fragrant plants is an important factor in maximizing your enjoyment of the fragrance.  Plant them were you can enjoy them.  Outside a window, next to the front door, near a porch or patio, by a gate you pass through often or along a path … all are examples of locations calling for a fragrant shrub.


When considering which fragrant shrubs to include in your garden, first think about which ones recall wonderful memories.  Fragrance is a very personal matter, as any perfume maker will tell you.  Not everyone is drawn to the same sent.  Make your garden fragrance a reflection and statement of your own style and personality.  Lastly, many fragrant flowers may be cut for bouquets and brought indoors so their scent can be enjoy.