Two Shrubs for Spring Fragrance


I hold fragrant plants in very high esteem, especially those that share their scent soon after winter comes to a close. For shrubs in this category, I think my favorite is Clove Currant (Ribes odoratum), a native of the Great Plains.


The Clove Currant in the front garden is especially floriferous and powerfully scented this year. It’s been covered with clusters of small yellow flowers for almost a month.


I have mine growing right by the sidewalk. The dog walkers can be seen pausing by this shrub and taking several deep breaths of the sweet, clove-like fragrance. Sometimes they put their noses up to the flowers, but you can detect the scent from a good 10′ away.


Once the flowers are gone, Clove Currant is unremarkable. However, that month of fragrant blooms more than makes up for its quiet presence for the remainder of the year.


Korean Spice Viburnum ‘Compactum’ (Viburnum carlesii) is a fragrant shrub that’s new to the front garden. This is its second spring. The pink buds opened a few days ago.


The clusters of pinkish-white flowers have a very sweet fragrance. This one is planted near the front door. Right now, its scent is mixing with that of the Sweet Alyssum (Lobularia maritima) and Stocks (Matthiola incana) growing in pots.


This isn’t a very good picture (I took it, not Judy) – hard to separate the Viburnum from the background. Unfortunately, this year there are only three clusters. Last year there was just one, so I suppose this is progress. I do hope that next year we’ll see a lot more flowers.

‘Compactum’ grows to no more than about 4′, so it’s easier to fit into a small space than the full-size shrub.

You may think that I’ve forgotten about Lilacs (Syringa), which some consider to be the queen of the fragrant shrubs. But don’t worry, I’ll have something to say about Lilacs soon.

What’s your favorite shrub for spring fragrance?

44 Comments on “Two Shrubs for Spring Fragrance

  1. I love that Viburnum too, as well as the Spiraea, which has already gone over here. Clove Currant has pretty flowers. Have never seen one here.

  2. We’re banned from growing Ribes odoratum or any other European currant here in Maine due to their infecting the white pines with white pine blister. Although other northeastern states have relaxed the ban, to my knowledge it is still in effect here in Maine. The lift was stimulated by development of varieties that were either resistant or immune to the white pine blister rust pathogen, Cronartium ribicola. Several states, including New York and New Hampshire, have eased the once-standard and universal quarantine of Ribes plants that protected the white pine resource and that had been in place for many decades. Unlike other neighboring states, Maine never changed its Ribes quarantine law, and now that decision has come to work to our advantage. A new strain of the pathogen C. ribicola, identified in late 2010, is now known to be able to infect previously resistant and immune species and cultivars of Ribes.

    • Interesting. I love White Pines from when I was growing up in New York. They are very unusual around Chicago, though there is a White Pines State Park about 150 miles to the west.

  3. I have had a Korean spice viburnum for over 30 years in my garden. The scent truly is heavenly, but the weather here got colder and rainier this week so I have not been able to enjoy it. I do wish I had planted it in an area where one can sit, but alas it never occurred to me at the time.

  4. These two are new to me – thank you for enlightening me. My absolute top late-winter, early-spring flowering shrub is Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill’ – its scent is incredible. For later spring, it has to be lilac.

  5. I love that Korean spice Viburnum but i don’t have one. Every spring I think I should get one but haven’t done so yet. I go to a friend’s house and get my annual whiff. I have never heard of Clove Current. I guess in my garden the most fragrant shrub this time of year is the Lilac. I have two old fashioned lilacs with no names. One is white and one is purple. Both smell heavenly.

  6. I am in NC, and we too are prohibited from growing Ribes sp. because of white pine blister rust. If the ban is ever lifted, I will order masses of them.

  7. But I do have a similar Viburnum, ‘Mohawk,’ which smells divine though the bloom period is short. I adore Lonicera fragrantissima, winter honeysuckle, which blooms for me from late January through March. And I would love to try a Philadelphus as well.

  8. When I was growing up, we had a huge Korean spice viburnum growing by our front door, so I’ve always associated the smell with springtime. I planted one outside our front door last year and it is covered with flower buds. I am looking forward to the blossoms.

  9. No fragrant shrubs at the little house in the big woods. I love how you planted the clove current so that passersby can smell them. Generosity!

  10. Lovely, Jason. We haven’t any fragrant blooms — yet — but would appreciate them too, at this time of year. And I like when you use enrichment words like ‘floriferous’!

  11. I love Korean Spice Viburnum and of course, lilacs. Some of my faves, lonicera fragrantissima, sarcococca, and Viburnum ‘Dawn’ are winter bloomers here.

  12. I am planting a sarcococca this spring that is supposedly hardy to zone 5 as everyone in the PNW raves about its fragrance. I have a standard lilac which I love because the flowers are right at nose level. I don’t have too much sun which really limits some of these fragrant shrubs.

  13. I’ll have to start smelling my plants more. I love the idea of a Clove Currant, although I don’t believe I’ve been exposed to one. I must find one to smell.

    • I didn’t know about the other common name. It blooms in May, so I guess it makes sense. I suppose it wasn’t brought over on the Mayflower.

  14. Lovely choices, Jason. I don’t know what my favorites are–there are so many. Definitely Crabapples and Lilacs and Magnolias and Mock Oranges. Spring is so amazing.

  15. I just discovered that Ribes at the nursery. It’s a beauty. There is a Hosta that is deliciously fragrant, but of course I can not remember the name.

  16. Good picks, Jason.

    I have two young clove currants. This is the first year that one of them flowered and yes, the fragrance was fantastic!

    I’m hoping they’ll do even better in future years and I may try planting some in sunnier positions after I saw them growing in full sun at our botanical garden.

    Does yours produce fruit? If so, have you tried it?

    I grow mainly native viburnums, but the Korean spice one has such a great fragrance that I might have to make an exception there too in the future…

    All the spring-flowering trees have completed their bloom by now here in Tennessee. The crabapple had an amazing fragrance this year.

    Right now, it may sound odd, but the most fragrant plant in my garden might be bronze fennel. I only have two plants, but I was doing some planting on a hillside a few days ago and I swear the entire area was filled with the sweet scent of anise. It was awesome! πŸ™‚

  17. Two lovely fragrant shrubs for you to enjoy. It funny how shrubs build up their blossoms isn’t it, my peony does the same, gradually increasing each year. Your neighbours must love

  18. Of all the spring flowering plants and trees we have here on the farm, it is probably apple blossoms in a close tie with blueberry blossoms.

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