Thursday, March 22, 2018

Creating a Fragrant Garden Season by Season

The older I get, the more artificial fragrances bother me. I dread a walk down the laundry soap isle in the grocery store. The highly perfumed detergents and fabric softeners overwhelm me and put me on edge. I can't wait to flee. The underlying problem is that "fragrance" is a great catchall for many unnamed and somewhat dubious chemical ingredients. No wonder they can be unpleasant!

The natural fragrances I find in the garden do not have the same effect on me at all. I still love it when my fingers end up smelling like roses after I do my deadheading. I don't even mind the white Actea that blooms in the fall and fills the air with the most intense perfume.

Am I alone in this? I'd love to hear about your experiences with fragrance in the comment section.

Here are a few ways to get more out of the fragrant plants in your garden:

• Place fragrant flowers in an area you pass frequently.

• Edge a pathway so visitors will brush by fragrant plants.

• Plant fragrant flowers next to a bench or seating area.

• Many flowers are their most fragrant at night, so plant them near a deck or patio so you can enjoy them on warm summer nights.

Spring has lots to offer in terms of scent. Here are a few things to keep in mind when shopping for fragrant plants, trees and shrubs:

• Shop for variety as well as type of flower. Daylilies are not usually very fragrant, but my Mom had an old yellow variety that had an amazingly scent. Roses are another great example. Most modern roses have little or no smell. Check the plant tag or descriptives in nursery listings to make sure you are choosing a rose that smells divine!

• Don't forget about aromatic foliage. For example, I love the fresh scent of Ostrich Ferns.

• Herbs have aromatic foliage and sometimes have scented blooms. Lavender is a perfect example.

• Plan beyond spring and try to have at least a few plants in each season that will be fragrant.

Woodland Phlox in my own garden.

Woodland Phlox, Phlox divaricata 'May Breeze' has fragrant, star-shaped white flowers in early spring. Unlike more familiar Phlox paniculata that blooms much later in the summer, this plant has fine, delicate foliage. Phlox divaricata 'May Breeze' slowly spreads to form a small clump. Divide in the fall. Moist soil and part to full shade are this plants preferences. Height: 30-40 cm (12-16 inches), Spread: 30-60 cm ( 12-23 inches). USDA zones: 3-9.

The path leading toward my four raised beds. 
Dwarf Korean Lilac tree form, Syringa meyeri 'Palibin' in the near distance.

Fragrant Varieties of Common Lilac, Syringa vulgaris:
White: 'Ellen Willmott', 'Mme. Lemoine', 'Angel White', 'Primrose'
Pink: 'Belle de Nancy', 'Edward J. Gardner'
Lavender: 'Victor Lemoine', 'Katherine Havemeyer', 'Maiden's Blush'
Purple: 'Charles Joly', 'Sensation', 'Congo'
Blue: 'President Gehry', 'President Lincoln'

Other fragrant lilacs:
Dwarf Korean Lilac, Syringa meyeri 'Palibin'

 A young Fringe Tree at Earthbound Gardens on the Bruce Peninsula.

White Fringe Tree, Chionanthus virginicus has showy white flowers that are fragrant. This deciduous tree is easily grown in average, well-drained soil and will reach a height of 20-25 feet. It requires full sun. USDA zones: 3-9.

Peonies at Keppel Croft Garden on the Bruce Peninsula.

Peonies from my own garden.

Not all peonies are fragrant, but many cultivars have a pleasant scent. 

Fragrant pink peonies include: 'Eden's Perfume', 'Sarah Bernhardt', 'Mons Jules Elie', 'Mrs FDR', 'Madame Debatene', 'Myrtle Gentry' and 'Alexander Fleming'
Fragrant white peonies include: 'Festive Maxima', 'Raspberry Sundae' 'Duchesse de Nemours'

Read more about growing peonies here

 More peonies at Keppel Croft Garden. 

Summary List: Late Winter/ Spring

Fragrant Plants for Sun

Annuals: Pansy, Wallflower
Perennials: Creeping or Moss Phlox, Sweet Violet
Bulbs: Hyacinth, Daffodils, some varieties of Tulip, Narcissus
Shrubs & Trees: Viburnum, Fothergilla gardenii, Witch hazel, Star Magnolia, Lilac, Crabapple, Fringe Tree, Japanese Flowering Cherry,

Fragrant Plants for Part Shade/Shade

Perennials: Woodland Phlox, Ostrich Fern, Lily-of-the-Valley (aggressive perennial)
Shrubs & Trees: Winter Daphne, Rhododendron, Azalea, Viburnum, Daphne, Fothergilla (part shade)

Fragrant Herbs for Part Shade and Shade: Sweet Woodruff

Read more about this garden filled with lavender and heather here.

It's summertime and the days are hot and languid. It's the perfect time to sit with a cold drink and enjoy some of the garden's most striking scents.

Lavender likes poor soil with good drainage. Read more about growing Lavender here
Make a lavender sachet here.

For mid-summer fragrance it is hard to beat Oriental Lilies. Plant Oriental Lily bulbs in the spring or fall in full sun.

 Old shrub roses at Earthbound Gardens on the Bruce Peninsula.

Old fashioned shrub rose at Earthbound Gardens.

Sadly fragrance has been bred out of many modern roses. Here are some of the many roses that still have a marvellous fragrance:

Fragrant pink roses: 'Louise Odier', ' The Generous Gardener', 'Madame Isaac Pereire', 'Heritage', 'Souvenir de la Malmaison', 'Harlow Carr' and 'Boscobel'
Fragrant white roses: 'Claire Austin', 'Moondance' and 'Bolero'
Fragrant red roses: 'Mr. Lincoln', 'Munstead Wood', 'Memorial Day'
Fragrant yellow: 'Graham Thomas', 'Honey Perfume', 'Julia Child' and 'Golden Celebration'
Fragrant climbers: 'New Dawn', 'Zephirine Drouhin', 'Madame Alfred Carriere', 'Constance Spry', 'Gertrude Jekyll', 'Buff Beauty' and 'Old Bourbon Rose'

Pinks, Dianthus have a rich, spicy fragrance. Plant them in full sun. 

Summary List: Summer

Fragrant Plants for Sun 

Annuals: Sweet Peas, Stocks, Petunias, Nicotiana, Sweet Alyssum, Moonflower, Heliotrope
Perennials: Oriental Lilies, Daylily, Lavender, Dianthus, Bearded Iris, Peony
Shrubs & Trees: Roses, Mock Orange

Fragrant Plants for Part Shade/Shade

Perennials: Hosta (some cultivars like 'Guacamole' and 'Honeybells' are fragrant)
Shrubs & Trees: Sweetshrub, Bottlebrush Buckeye (lightly fragrant)

Fragrant Herbs for Sun: Thyme, Chamomile, Rosemary, Monarda, Mint, Scented Geranium, Nasturtium, Lavender, Sage, Artemesia

The most fragrant flower in my garden is a shade plant. Read more about growing Actea 
(or Cimicifuga as it was formerly known) here.

It's fall. The days are shorter, but there is some welcome relief from the heat. Summer annuals are often at their fragrant best at this time of year. There are also a few perennials making their own contribution.

Phlox paniculata 'Franz Shubert' at Larkwhistle Garden on the Bruce Peninsula.

I don't find most varieties of Phlox paniculata are all that fragrant, but there are a few that have a light perfume particularly at night:
Phlox paniculata 'Starfire', 'Blue Paradise', 'Rembrant' and 'Franz Shubert'

Phlox paniculata 'Blue Paradise' in Joe's Brampton garden.

Summary List: Late Summer/Fall:  

Fragrant Plants for Sun

Perennials: Agastache, Phlox Paniculata (sun or part shade)
Shrubs & Trees: Butterfly Bush, Sweet Autumn Clematis (vine)

Fragrant Plants Part Shade/Shade

Perennials: Phlox Paniculata, Actea (or Cimicifuga as it was previously known)

There is lots of talk about limiting perfume in the workplace and other public spaces. What are your feelings about fragrance in general? And how do you feel about fragrance in the garden? I am curious to know!

Bookmark this post with a Pin.


  1. Some wonderful ideas here and so many great choices. This is something I need to work on in my garden...fragrance adds a wonderful touch to any garden.

  2. Ah, my favorite garden subject! Lovely article, thank you!

    1. It is an interesting subject that I'd like to learn more about.

  3. Fantastic post- I'll be bookmarking this for future reference for sure. I'll admit to not always paying as much attention to scent as I probably should. This will certainly help with that.

    1. I'd like to have more scent in my own garden as well. Some fragrant roses are in my future for sure!

  4. Since we went chemical free many years ago I, like you, have an aversion to scented detergents, soaps, cleaners, etc. They are just incredibly overwhelming. We use natural cleaners and essential oils. In the garden I love thyme, lemon balm, and rosemary. We have a wonderful Edgeworthia chrysantha that fills the garden with its wonderful scent on warm winter days and then calycanthus in summer that has a wonderful orange spicy smell that waifs through the woodland garden.

    1. I do have some green cleaning supplies, but I could do better on that score. I would love to have an Edgeworthia chrysantha, but to the best of my knowledge, it is not hardy here. I should add it to my list though for gardeners like you that are in warmer zones.

  5. As I've gotten older, my sense of smell has diminished, I think, so I'm not usually that bothered by artificial fragrances. But I agree-fragrance in the garden is the best. I remember walking near one of my flowerbeds one summer evening and catching the most delicious fragrance. I realized it was my 'Casablanca' oriental lilies, which were at least 10 feet away. As beautiful as they are, their appeal to the sense of smell is just as powerful!

    1. Lilies are incredible aren't they? In the last few years I've had so much trouble with lily beetles, I've become a bit discouraged about growing lilies. I am actually thinking of growing them in pots to see if I can keep those pesky beetles at bay.

  6. Love the fragrance of flowers. I agree some of our newer rose bushes don't have much of a fragrance but I have an old rose bush that gives off the most amazing fragrance. I love saving the rose petals for potpourri sachets.

    1. I have made it one of my missions to add more old fragrant roses. Sadly one of the best growers of old roses in Ontario is no longer in business. It makes the task much harder.

  7. Our garden group is currently planning a respite garden outside the palliative care room at the nursing home. Fragrance as been part of the discussion. We are finding it needs some thought mostly along the lines of how much is too much. Thoughts? In my own garden I adore fragrant flowers especially in the evening.

    1. What a great project. Horticultural therapy is a new and exciting practice on which I am no expert. One book that the Toronto Botanical garden requires for its horticultural therapy training program is Horticulture as Therapy, Principles and Practice Sharon P. Simson and Martha C. Straus, Editors – Food Products Press. Here's a link to the book on Amazon: You also might find some ideas or assistance here:The Canadian Horticultural Therapy Association:

    2. Thx, I'll follow up on your suggestions❤️

  8. Such beautiful flowers here, Jennifer!
    I don't mind fragrances as long as they are VERY light. Nothing heavy and real perfumy (is that a word???). One flower fragrance that I really, really don't like is the fragrance of Paper Whites. Not sure what it is, but I just find it overwhelming. does not keep me from forcing them each year (lots of them!) at Christmastime. I just love the way they look.
    Have a wonderful week, my friend!


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