11 Plants to Grow for Fragrance

Updated: Apr. 08, 2024

Fragrant flowers are remembered long after their blooms have faded and and they are a joy to grow. Consider adding frangrance flowers to your gardens.

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Close up on lilac in a garden
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Lilacs are popular shrubs, and even small trees, with a sweet scent that is unmistakable. The scent usually lasts as long as the flowers are in bloom. Most lilacs are hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 3 through 7.

Lilac size can range from a small well-pruned shrub to a 10-foot or taller small tree. Once planted, lilacs require little extra care other than occasional pruning to control size or rejuvenate older shrubs. To get a lilac with the color and scent you want, buy one in the spring when it is in bloom. I planted several types that bloom at different times so my spring is filled with lilacs.

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Dianthus Pink Kisses has enchanting carnation scent and beautiful color flowers
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“Spicy sweet” is how many people describe the scent of Dianthus, a low-growing perennial that can serve as a flowering groundcover and does well in poor, dry soil conditions. The scent lasts while the plant is in bloom.

Dianthus are hardy in Zones 3 through 8 and once established, require little care other than cutting off spent blooms, which gives the plant a neater appearance as a ground cover. To ensure you get a variety with a strong scent, buy it when the plants are in bloom. I can personally say that ‘Bath’s Pink‘, a variety I grow, has a lovely strong scent.

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Fluffy flower Viburnum Buldenezh. Selective focus
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Not all viburnums have a scent when in bloom but those that do are long-remembered. Korean Spice Viburnum, Viburnum carlesii, is one with lots of fragrance. It’s hardy in Zones 5 through 9, with spring flowers that first appear as dark pink buds and then open up to reveal a soft pink color. This shrub will top out at around five feet tall and five feet wide.

To enjoy its fragrant blooms, consider planting Korean Spice Viburnum where you can walk past it. It doesn’t need much pruning if you let it grow to its full size. I have both this and another heavily scented viburnum, Judd Viburnum, in my garden.

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Blooming Lily of the valley in spring garden with shallow
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Lily of the Valley

Lily of the Valley, Convallaria majalis, has a strong, sweet scent when it flowers in mid-spring. As a ground cover, it does well in part-shade and tolerates various conditions, once established, in Zones 3 through 8.

While some gardeners love it for the sweet scent of its flowers, other gardeners loathe it for taking over and crowding out other plants. But for sentimental reasons, they keep it in their gardens, as I do, for the lovely scent. It should be noted that all parts of the lily of the valley plant are poisonous.

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plant of flowering white lilies
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There are many kinds of lilies we can grow in our gardens and some of them have a wonderful scent that can fill a garden in the summertime after heavily scented spring flowers have faded. One of the most reliable lilies for scent are trumpet lilies. I have several growing in my garden. They are hardy in Zones 3 through 8, although some varieties can take the heat in Zone 9 and even 10.

Trumpet lilies prefer full sun and well-drained soil. Because they grow so tall, you may need to stake them to keep them from flopping over. Keep in mind that many lilies are poisonous to both dogs and cats.

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Pink Rose Garden
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Roses have a favorite scent for many of us and we love having them in our gardens. If that’s your primary reason for adding roses to your garden, smell the rose in bloom before you buy it. Many of today’s shrub roses are easy to grow and have more disease resistance, but to get that, breeders lost some of the scent. But there are still many scented roses available. One of those in my garden is called ‘At Last.‘ I was told it was named that because “at last we have a shrub rose with scent.”

Most of today’s roses are hardy in Zones 5 through 9, with some varieties also doing well in Zones 10 and 11. To keep your rose blooming through the summer, deadhead the faded flowers or cut some of the just-opening flowers to enjoy indoors.

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Macro Purple lavender flower.
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Lavender flowers have a soothing, calming scent that hangs around the plant even when it isn’t in flower. The perennial, English lavender, Lavendula angustifolia, is hardy in Zones 5 through 9 and is fairly easy to find at local garden centers. Varieties like ‘Lady,‘ a 1994 All-America Selections winner, produce flowers the first year they are grown from seed.

Generally, lavender does well under hot, dry conditions. Avoid mulching around the plants which can keep them too moist. Put them where you can run your hands across them to get that lavender scent. I put some right next to a favorite sitting area in my garden. It’s nice to be able to reach down while sitting there and pick lavender for its scent.

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Detailed View Of White Magnolia Flower
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There are many species and varieties of magnolias that range in size from shrubs to tall trees. One of the best for fragrances while in bloom is the southern magnolia, Magnolia grandiflora. One variety of this great tree is ‘Little Gem‘ which grows up to 20 feet tall, about 40 feet shorter than most southern magnolias, so it is good for smaller gardens.

It is hardy in Zones 7 through 9 where it grows best in full sun or part-shade in well-drained soil. The dark green evergreen foliage provides a great background to show off the big white, fragrant flowers. Of all the plants I can’t grow in my garden but wish I could, this is at the top of the list.

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Madagascar Jasmine (Stephanotis Floribunda) in London, England
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Many gardeners consider it good luck to grow heavily scented jasmine in their gardens. Jasmine, which has the tongue-twisting botanical name Trachelospermum jasminoides, is hardy in Zones 8 through 10 where passersby can enjoy the scent of its flowers in spring and summer. It is a vine so it needs something to climb up or over. It is also a quick grower in full sun with average soil.

For gardeners in colder zones, like me, Jasmine can also be grown as a houseplant.

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Beautiful pink flower of common peony in June
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Many gardeners grow peonies because of the big flowers, or because they got them from their parents’ garden like I did. But they also have a wonderful scent which lasts as long as the flowers. Peonies, which are perennials, are hardy in Zones 2 through 8 and bloom in late spring in warmer zones and early summer in colder zones. They are fairly easy to grow in well-drained soil in full sun.

Because of the size of the flowers, you may need to add some support to keep your peonies from flopping over during a spring rain. Put supports in place just as the foliage emerges from the ground so the plants can grow through and around them. When cutting peonies, pick just as blooms open so they’ll last longer indoors.

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Everlasting sweet pea
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Sweet Peas

Annual sweet peas, Lathyrus odoratus, have sweetly scented, unforgettable flowers. I once heard an older woman exclaim that she’d do anything to smell sweet pea flowers again. I wished I had some to share with her then because I grow them every year.

Sweet peas do best when planted early, well before your last frost. Soak the seeds for a day or so before sowing to loosen up the thick seed coat and sow them where you want them to grow. They need something to climb on, such as a fence or temporary support.

Pick the flowers to encourage the plant to produce more flowers which it should do until temperatures get hot. At that point, the plant will give up and it’s time to pull it out.

Note that annual sweet peas are poisonous and should not be confused with peas we grow to eat.