Top Plants for Creating A Year-Round Fragrant Garden

Rose pink

Last year, I was walking in Lima in December when suddenly, a sweet perfume came floating across the warm morning air. For a moment I was taken aback, until I realized the smell was none other than the scent of roses. And, rounding the corner there they were; dense clusters of velvety blooms beckoning me into their fragrant, hilltop garden. 

On the scent

In the plant world, fragrance aids in survival by directing pollinators to particular flowers that are ready to be pollinated. And in the human world, fragrance is a source of attraction, too. But in lieu of pollinators, it seduces the senses, luring different individuals to different flowers that can stir emotions, evoke powerful memories or provide an overall sense of well-being.

lilac bush 2

Fragrance has always played an essential role in the garden. And now, in a growing trend, it is being recognized as a quality worth cultivating all on its own. A fragrant garden is a new style that is adding an exciting dimension to gardening. When carefully choreographed, the gradual release of scent over time can enhance our outdoor experience. It can also deepen our appreciation for the individual plants in our garden.

Choosing a site

A fragrant garden can play many roles. For starters, it can alter emotions, potentially reducing depression and anxiety while improving quality of life. For many people, a purposeful combination of aromatic plants can bring peace and relaxation, especially when the plants are sited close by a patio, on or around a pergola or bordering a seat where they can be quietly enjoyed.


Another great spot for a fragrant garden is under a window where it acts as a soft transition from the ornamental landscape to the house. Here, the garden’s proximity to the home makes harvesting plants easy while allowing the aromas to carry indoors.

flowers under a window

Even a small-sized fragrant garden can have a big impact when planted alongside a garden path. As people brush against the scented plants, they release their smells by surprise, making for a powerful experience.

garden path

Whatever location you select, make sure to choose a sunny, well-sheltered site. Enclosed spaces work best because they protect delicate blossoms while concentrating their individual scents, heightening the effect of the garden.


A well-designed fragrant garden follows the same layout as the perennial garden: that is, it is composed of a mix of tall, medium and low-growing plants that complement each other. When creating your garden, make sure to plan for a staged succession of blooms that balances fragrance along with leaf shape, texture and flower colors. And never fixate on just one scent, which can quickly become overpowering and detract from the overall interest of the garden.

white jasmine


Choose taller, scented shrubs as a backdrop to your fragrant garden, or select just one as an anchor. Site medium-sized plants forward of the shrubs and save low-growing sweet-scented perennials, annuals and herbs for the front of the garden.

What to plant

Below you’ll find a list of shrubs, perennials, annuals and bulbs known for their intoxicating scents (most of which I’ve had experience with.) Depending on the size of your garden, you can choose one or a few from each list to create your own custom mix of smells. Remember to plan for a succession of bloom times, which will keep your fragrant garden going all season long. (Click on the links to learn more about each plant.)


Lilac, Syringa cultivars

Korean spice bush, Viburnum carlesii

Mock Orange, Philadelphus  ‘Belle Etoile’

Gardenia cultivars

Daphne x transatlantica ‘Blafra’  Eternal Fragrance

Sweet Olive, Osmanthus fragrans ‘Fudingzhu’

Winter Honeysuckle, Lonicera fragrantissima

Camellia, Camellia sasanqua, Camellia lutchuensis hybrids

Sweetbay Magnolia (small tree)

Chinese Witch Hazel, Hamamelis mollis


Jasmine, Jasminum

Sweet Autumn Clematis, Clematis paniculata



Chocolate Cosmos, Cosmos atrosanguineus (Really does smell like chocolate!)

Hosta ‘Honeybells’Hosta plantaginea

Hosta ‘Guacamole’

Lemon lilyHemerocallis lilioasphodelus

Lily of the Valley, Convallaria majalis

Peony ‘Festiva Maxima’ (white), Eden’s Perfume (pink), Raspberry Sundae (cherry pink)

Dianthus allwoodii ‘Agatha’

Scented Geranium, Pelargonium crispum ‘Prince Rupert’

Heliotrope, Heliotropium arborescens

LavenderLavandula x intermedia ‘Provence’ 

Phlox paniculata ‘Blue Paradise’ (More purple than blue, but highly fragrant)



Pot Marigold, Calendula officinalis

Sweet Peas

Sweet Alyssum, Lobularia maritima  Highly fragrant, cool-season annual


Lavender, Lavendula x intermedia Provence




Pineapple Sage, Salvia elegans


Galanthus ‘S. Arnott’

Hyacinth, Hyacinth orientales

Daffodil, Triandrus Narcissus ‘Thalia’

Tulips, ‘Angelique‘, ‘Princess Irene

Lillium ‘Stargazer’

Want to learn more? Check out this great book by Rosemary Verey, “The Scented Garden,” my go-to reference for all fragrant plants and how to combine them into beautiful compositions.

Questions ? Have a favorite scented plant you’d like to add to the list? Feel free to reply above or email me at


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About carole funger

I'm a garden designer and Maryland Master Gardener living in the Washington, DC area. I blog about new trends in horticulture, inspiring gardens to visit and the latest tips and ideas for how to nurture your own beautiful garden. Every garden tells a story. What's yours?

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