Favorite Fragrant Flowers for Future Reference

Joseph Tychonievich has an excellent article on fragrant plants for the garden in the most recent issue of Fine Gardening. (A brief digression: the most recent issue of Fine Gardening is the June issue. The June issue arrived at my house on March 27th. I don’t mean to be picky, but this makes me feel a bit disoriented as to time, or as if I lived in a localized time warp that lagged eight weeks behind the rest of the universe.)

Casa Blanca Oriental Lily
‘Casa Blanca’ Oriental Lily

Anyhow, back to fragrant plants. The reason I said this was an excellent article is that it talks about plants that 1) I have never heard of; and 2) now that I have heard of them I must have them.

For example, Bush Clematis (Clematis heracleifolia). I didn’t even know there was such a thing. But there is (or Joseph Tychonievich is making things up just to be cruel). It is a compact, upright and mounding plant that grows in sun or part shade, is hardy to USDA zone 5, and has long-blooming flowers that smell like Hyacinths. Where has this plant been all my life, and why have I never noticed it in a catalog or at the garden center? For more information on this plant, click here.

Red or Swamp Milkweed prefers sun and moist soil.
Red or Swamp Milkweed prefers sun and moist soil.

Here’s another one that is completely new to me: Pale Evening Primrose (Oenothera pallida). This is a well-behaved Evening Primrose, “intensely fragrant, smelling of almond and jasmine”, according to the article. Allegedly it flowers from late spring to frost, and is hardy from zone 7 all the way north to zone 3. Native to western North America, more info here.

Clove Currant
Clove Currant in flower

I won’t list all the plants described in this article, but I do want to mention one more, one which I had heard of but had no idea that it was fragrant: Thimbleberry (Rubus odoratus). Although given the botanical name you’d think I would have guessed. Anyhow, this is an easy plant native to eastern North America. It produces fruits that are like little raspberries (it’s in the same genus with raspberries and blackberries). The common name Thimbleberry is also sometimes applied to Rubus parviflorus, which grows taller. More info here.

The best fragrant plants I’ve grown in my garden to date are Oriental Lilies, Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata – smells like vanilla), Clove Currant (Ribes Odoratus), and Sweet Alyssum (Lobularia maritima). But I love fragrant plants, so I’m definitely going to try to make room for some aromatic newcomers.

Do you have your eye on any new fragrant plants for your garden? What are the sweet-scented favorites that you grow now?

56 Comments on “Favorite Fragrant Flowers for Future Reference

  1. I have also thought about getting the clematis you mentioned. Soon I will have lily of the valley, and they have an amazing fragrance. I have also bought some new roses, Buff Beauty and our Last Summer which should have strong fragrance. Lilies are also a favourite, and peonies. But for now I am looking forward to all my narcissus for aroma.

  2. I like the sound of that clematis and just looked it up on an online nursery site here…. “best grown in groups of 3 to 5” ! I planted a fragrant Viburnum carlesii last week, and am hoping it will produce its first flowers this year as it is a good sized plant. Otherwise I love the smell of Lily in the Valley and all my peonies.

  3. For fragrance in the garden I love datura and the sweet little mounding/matting dianthus. Also a non-flower fragrance is pine needles. I use them for the paths around my shed garden and on a warm sunny day you can be deluded into thinking you’re in a pine woods.

    • The author mentioned a variety of Dianthus. It’s funny, I see lots of Dianthus in gardens but none seem to be fragrant. Regarding pine needles, near the house where I grew up in NY there were three large white pines that provided copious needles. Around here, though, pines are something of a rarity.

  4. I have heard Koreanspice viburnum (viburnum carlesii) is fragrant, although I do not have one planted to know. If you have any containers with annuals, nicotiana has a lovely sweet fragrance that it gives off at dusk.

  5. Fragrance in the Garden is my favorite subject. Right now Apple Blossom Amaryllis perfumes the indoors, while Calycanthus is coming into bloom outside, joining Tea Olive Osmanthus which perfumes the outdoors most of the winter. Tiny pink blossoms of Bath’s Pink Dianthus are a delight. Sadly my Philadelphus is the native P. inodorus with no fragrance but incredibly beautiful blossoms.

    I’m looking forward to summer’s delights including Gardenia hedges and Crinums of all kinds. I consider resinous plants like Rosemary as delightful scents.

      • Fruity. We call Calycanthus ‘Sweet Shrub.’ As children, we tied the blossoms in the corner of a handkerchief — kind of reveals my advanced age, doesn’t it? — to carry in a pocket to take out and sniff in the close air of a rural schoolroom.

  6. I have grown the bush clematis heracleifolia ‘China Blue’ for a number of years and never found it particularly fragrant. It is not very common commercially, but is easy to grow. I will hook you up with some once the ground unfreezes in that part of my garden Jason. The problem I have found with fragrance is not all flowers are perceived as having aromatic versus noxious fragrances. The primrose he mentions seems strongly biennial. Also there are the whole group of white flowering plants which open at dusk and are strongly fragrant in the evening to attract night time pollinators which given that a lot of gardener a work during the day should not be ignored.

    • Thanks, Rachelle! It’s true some people seem to dislike strong fragrances as with Hyacinths. I like those powerful scents, myself.

  7. A June issue arriving on March 27 does seem a bit premature. Guess the publishers think you probably caught up on other reading this winter. Your Clove Currant appeals to me–I love clove. Planting lemony-scented Daphne near my front door is my greatest success in enjoying fragrant plants.

  8. I have milkweed seeds started for the butterflies. I had no idea they smell like vanilla, how nice! I can’t wait to smell the lilacs and viburnum…peonies, roses… Geez! Great post, just thinking of all this cheers me on this cold, windy day

    • Different Asclepias species have different fragrances – or none at all. A. syriaca has a strong honey scent, but A. tuberosa and A. purpureum are not fragrant.

  9. I’m planning to replace an aging azalea with “Philadelphus Snow”, a dwarf mock orange. Can’t wait for those exquisite blossoms!

  10. Those herbaceous (as they are known over here) clematis are more available over here now and I’ve seen them in a few places for sale. Although I’ve yet to be tempted – they tend to be quite expensive.
    My favourite scent in the garden is that from a rose – Rosa Lady Emma Hamilton – it’s amazing, Philadelphus Belle Etoile is also up there. There are a few plants I don’t particularly like but wouldn’t dare say out loud as so many folks love their scents.

  11. Well, I do hope you manage to acquire some of these beauties! I love the simple English flowers like sweet peas and honeysuckle for scent, and herbs….lots and lots of herbs.xxx

    • I have never successfully grown sweet peas, and our honeysuckles are either without fragrance or invasive. Agastache foeniculum has an anise scent and has been grown as an herb.

  12. My favorites were Asiatic lilies until the lily beetles took care of them. I also have a mayflower viburnum (Viburnum carlesii) that is very fragrant.
    I knew about the bush clematis but apparently I’ve never stopped to smell a thimbleberry, which is odd because I see them on the wood edges all the time.

  13. I read the article, Jason. Like so many in Fine Gardening, it was certainly a quality discussion. I found out about the magazine in time to get the first issue (May/June 1988), subscribed, and have a copy of every issue. It’s starting to take up a lot of shelf space, and I have no idea what to do with them when it’s time to think about that. It has been consistently fine magazine…perhaps the best out there now.

    • I agree it is pretty much the best gardening magazine in the US, though I’ve heard people swear by Gardens Illustrated from the UK.

  14. I dream of the scent of Casa Blanc lilies. Nicotiana sylvestris is nearly as good. Like you, I’m on the hunt for more fragrant garden additions.

  15. I need to get going on my plans for new plants! It’s almost time to plant! Yes, Swamp (Red) Milkweed is wonderfully fragrant–it smells like vanilla! Definitely a favorite. I remember finding Rubus parviflorus along a trail in Door County last summer (http://bit.ly/1mwkY5I), and it, too, has a wonderful scent. The flowers are large and white, and have a circular center, around which the pollinators hum and buzz happily. Great list of fragrant plants. šŸ™‚

  16. I will have to check out this article…it sounds fantastic! I could so use help in this department and know that if I could get more fragrance in our space my beans would love it! Wishing you a great week in the garden Jason! Nicole

  17. I have quite a few fragrant plants, but not all are to my liking. I love lilies in my garden and have more than 100 or so, but I really don’t like the smell when brought inside, it is too potent. I have the same feeling about petunias too. Allysum is fine as it self-seeds, but I like the fragrance of the garden as a whole. It seems the smells all blend and make it sweet smelling all spring and summer.

    • I like the idea of many fragrant plants creating a combined perfume. I’d like to force Hyacinths indoors despite the risk of being overpowered.

  18. Hello Jason, I love smelling flowers and to that end, have an increasing number of fragrant plants that are going into the garden. There are classics such as roses (pretty much every rose I have is fragrant), honeysuckle, wisteria, Philadelphus, Sweetbox, lilies and so on. I love a fragrant garden, for me it’s just as important at the visuals of a plant.

  19. Isn’t it funny, what one person loves is another’s cryptonite. I tend to stay as far away from fragrant plants as possible. There’s a couple I don’t mind, lilacs is one, but generally I find fragrance too strong for my sensitive nose.

  20. I saw the Bush clematis for the first time on a local garden tour a couple of years ago and wondered, too, why I had never heard of it before and why local garden centers don’t stock it. I love the ‘Casablancas’ and ‘Immortality’ iris for their fragrance. I would recommend Clethra, which I planted for its fragrance, but my puny little specimen still hasn’t lived up to its reputation.

  21. Fragrance is one of the greatest things about gardening. Last year I planted a bunch of clove currants. You can get them for nearly free from the wonderful people at http://www.uidaho.edu/cnr/cfnsr/frank-h-pitkin-forest-nursery Anyway I had heard that they grew wild in Texas — but WHERE in Texas. It is a big state. I couldn’t find any info on whether or not they could handle the summer heat. And believe me I asked around — the master gardeners, a local gardening tv show, the Ladybird Johnson peeps, you name it. So far they have survived and have popped up again so … fingers crossed. I doubt I’ll ever get fruit but I am only aiming for the flowers.

  22. I LOVE lilies, especially Casablanca. Occassionally I plant them, but i find them too fussy. The lilly beetle does not help! and they do not last long. I am happy for you.

  23. Thanks for pointing me toward this article. I am about to begin designing a fragrant garden to go right outside the big window of my new bedroom. There are also some wonderfully fragrant daylilies. ‘Hyperion’ is probably the best known, but I have some pale yellow nocturnal ones that may be a species ancestor of ‘Hyperion.’ I often look for daylilies from the breeding program of Maine daylily hybridizers Joseph (father) and Nick (son) Barth, because while others were breeding for ruffles and picotees, they were breeding for fragrance. And, of course, peonies and roses are also wonderful fragrant flowers.

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