clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

13 Fragrant Plants to Include in Your Garden

Enhance the fragrance factor of your outdoor space with these irresistibly sweet-smelling flowers, herbs, and shrubs.

A fragrant garden with a table and two chairs. Friedrich Strauss/GAP Photos

The visual impact of your garden’s color and design may make the first impression, but its perfume may be what ends up stealing the show. A garden’s olfactory allure not only appeals to the humans who linger there, but it also attracts important pollinators: insects and animals that help fertilize plants by transferring pollen.

There’s a grand array of scents that plants may impart, from a familiar sweetness to spicy, fruity, fresh, even candy-like qualities. The lineup here offers details on a dozen delightful possibilities that can amp up your garden’s aroma—and that’s nothing to sniff at!

Tips for Purchasing and Planting Fragrant Flowers

Before dashing off to the nursery, keep the following in mind:

  • Don’t assume about scents. Not all varieties of plants—even among those commonly known for scent—emit much noticeable aroma. Some are cultivated more for their form than their fragrance. Read the tags inserted in plant containers (or online descriptions), and if the information seems vague, ask an associate at the garden center for fragrance facts.
  • Group your plants. Clustering fragrant plants in groups of three to five (known as “drift planting”) helps strengthen the perceptible scent for those enjoying the garden. This holds true for people as well as pollinators.
  • Add a few night bloomers. Flowers that open in the PM hours will perfume your garden in time for dinner on the patio. They’ll also invite nocturnal pollinators like moths and bats.
  • Consider toxicity. Some plants with wonderful fragrances have toxic compounds and could cause distress if ingested by people and/or dogs, cats, horses, and other companion animals. We’ve noted below when to keep curious pets and small children away.

The Most Fragrant Plants

Daphne

Why wait for warmer months when you can have Daphne (Daphne spp.) impart its perfume by winter’s end? This tidy rounded evergreen shrub with small tubular flowers offers up a citrusy-honey scent that, though delicate, carries through the air.

  • Where Daphne Grows Best: USDA Hardiness Zones 4-9
  • Maintenance of Daphne: Purchase an established plant and place it in a spot that receives partial sun and slightly acidic, well-draining soil.
  • Toxic: Humans and pets

Lilac

Lilac (Syringa vulgaris) iStock

Few fragrances rival the intense sweetness of blooms from this deciduous shrub, a member of the olive family. Plus, the scent of lilac (Syringa vulgaris) has a high projection, meaning it will carry widely through the garden, so you needn’t be up close to enjoy it.

  • Where Lilac Grows Best: USDA Hardiness Zones 3-7
  • Maintenance of Lilac: Thrives in loamy, well-draining soil and full sun. While new bushes may take several years to flower, once established they need minimal care. Just be sure to prune soon after flowers die for ample blooms the following spring.
  • Toxic: No

Hyacinth

Though many spring-blooming bulbs aren’t known for their scent, hyacinth (Hyacinthus) is the striking exception, with an intensely sweet aroma. The spear-shaped colorful bloom clusters look great in mixed borders as well as in containers, and as perennials, they’ll return their fragrant favor year after year.

  • Where Hyacinth Grows Best: USDA Hardiness Zones 3-9
  • Maintenance of Hyacinth: Likes full sun but can fare well in partial shade. It must have well-draining soil, though, or bulbs will rot.
  • Toxic: Pets; handling the bulbs may cause skin irritation in humans.

Gardenia

The showy white flowers of this subtropical evergreen shrub (Gardenia augusta, Gardenia jasminoides) give off a sweet, heady aroma.

  • Where Gardenia Grows Best: USDA Hardiness Zones 6-11
  • Maintenance of Gardenia: Be sure to plant in moist, well-draining, acidic soil and supply plenty of organic matter. A bit fussy, these plants flourish in high humidity and warm temperatures but tend to prefer partial shade to full sun. To keep the blooms going, remove flowers just below the leaf node once they start to fade.
  • Toxic: Pets

Lavender

English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) iStock

English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) is among the most fragrant variety of this herbaceous perennial. Its distinct, almost musky, long-lasting scent is prized for its relaxing properties, and it also has the power to repel mosquitos, making it a win-win for outdoor spaces. Its purple spiky flowers appear in late spring and keep it up all summer.

  • Where Lavender Grows Best: USDA Hardiness Zones 5-9
  • Maintenance of Lavender: Does well in a variety of soils, including clay and sand, and while it thrives in full sun it’s fairly drought resistant.
  • Toxic: Pets

Jasmine

The small star-shaped flowers of jasmine (Jasminum officinale) pack a potent punch of spicy-sweet fragrance, flourishing in warm climates. Jasmine grows as vines or bushes, making it a good choice for trellises and fences that surround you in scent. While the flowers stay open for only a short period, this hardy plant is a repeat bloomer from late spring to early fall.

  • Where Jasmine Grows Best: USDA Hardiness Zones 7-10
  • Maintenance of Jasmine: For best results, plant in well-draining soil and a sheltered area, where it will get full sun to light shade.
  • Toxic: No

Radiant Perfume Rose

No fragrant flowers roundup would be complete without a mention of roses, but a rose by any other name may not smell as special as Radiant Perfume (Grandiflora rose), a large beauty with a strong citrusy scent that suits its yellow petals. The bush can grow up to six feet tall and bloom from late spring through early fall. Bonus: The flowers are well suited to cutting for bouquets.

Where Radiant Perfume Rose Grows Best: USDA Hardiness Zones 6-9

Maintenance of Radiant Perfume Rose: Prefers full sun and well-draining soil.

Toxic: No

Moonflower

This aptly named vine (Ipomoea alba) opens in the evening, adding large, luminously white, trumpet-shaped blooms that bring a delicately sweet scent to the garden and is a beacon to PM pollinators.

  • Where Moonflower Grows Best: USDA Hardiness Zone 6-9
  • Maintenance of Moonflower: Though a perennial in Zones 6-9, it can be successfully grown elsewhere as an annual if given full sun and moist, well-draining soil.
  • Toxic: Pets

Carnation

Though some consider it a somewhat pedestrian plant, the carnation (Dianthus caryophyllus) imparts a spicy, clove-like scent that sets it apart from more familiar floral aromas. Carnations bloom in late spring and will continue popping with petals if gardeners remember to deadhead.

  • Where Carnation Grows Best: USDA Hardiness Zones 7-10
  • Maintenance of Carnation: These perennials prefer alkaline, well-drained soil and full to partial sun.
  • Toxic: Pets

Chocolate Flower

Chocoholics rejoice—especially if you live in dry, hot climates like the Southwest. The chocolate flower (Berlandiera lyrata) is an herbaceous perennial boasting bright, perky yellow petals, a showy center, and the delicious aroma of its namesake treat. It’s a great choice for borders, beds, and rock gardens.

  • Where Chocolate Flower Grows Best: USDA Hardiness Zones 4-10
  • Maintenance of Chocolate Flower: Easy to grow, loves full sun, and can take heat and drought conditions like a champ.
  • Toxic: Humans and any animals

Sweet Woodruff

Hoping to plant ground cover that smells as good as it looks? Consider Sweet Woodruff (Gallium odoratum), a low-growing herbaceous perennial that creates a lush carpet of small flowers that give off a heady aroma. The flowers’ fragrance gets more intense when the plants dry—instant potpourri!

  • Where Sweet Woodruff Grows Best: USDA Hardiness Zones 4-8
  • Maintenance of Sweet Woodruff: Easy-going; does well in moist, well-drained soil and shady areas.
  • Toxic: No

Chamomile

Chamomile flowers in a garden. iStock

Sweet scents aren’t for everyone, so folks who prefer a fresher, grassier essence may want to choose chamomile (Matricaria recutita is an annual, while Chamaemelum nobile is a perennial). Not only is this herb with pretty daisy-like flowers bound to emit the same aroma as a cup of chamomile tea, it may also offer similar calming properties, to make sitting in your garden even more relaxing.

  • Where Chamomile Grows Best: USDA Hardiness Zones 2-9
  • Maintenance of Chamomile: Thrives in both full sun and partial shade, and it’s not the least bit fussy, tolerating heat and drought well.
  • Toxic: No

Four O’clock

As the name implies, four o’clock (Mirabilis jalapa) opens its bright colorful blooms in the late afternoon to give off a lemony-sweet aroma that intensifies in the evening. This herbaceous perennial can spread quickly so control as necessary.

  • Where Four O’clock Grows Best: USDA Hardiness Zones 9-11
  • Maintenance of Four O’clock: Easy-care, pest- and disease-resistant plant that flourishes in moist and well-draining soil and, ideally, full sun.
  • Toxic: Humans and pets