Top Plants for Creating A Year-Round Fragrant Garden

Rose pink

A few years ago, I was visiting Lima in December when suddenly, a sweet perfume came floating through the warm afternoon 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, a stunning collection of velvety, deep pink blooms beckoning me into their fragrant garden.


In the plant world, fragrance guides pollinators to flowers that are ready to be fertilized. 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. This experience can stir emotions, evoke powerful memories and provide an overall sense of well-being.

lilac bush 2

Lilacs are one of the best spring scents

Fragrance has always played a key 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. And it can deepen our appreciation for the individual plants in our garden.


A fragrant garden plays many roles. First, it can alter emotions. Studies show that certain fragrances can improve people’s emotional and spiritual well-being while potentially reducing depression and/or anxiety. This may explain why a purposeful combination of aromatic plants often brings a sense of peace and relaxation. 


Place scented plants along a walkway or by a bench

And why not harness that effect? Try grouping scented plants near a patio or seating area where they can be quietly inhaled. Or, site them close to the house where they can serve as an indoor-outdoor transition. Keeping your fragrant garden close to home will not only make harvesting plants easy, but also allow their aromas to carry inside.

flowers under a window

Plant a fragrant garden under a window for a powerful effect

At other times, fragrance can evoke memories, while freeing positive emotions of happiness or well-being. For me, it’s the delicate aroma of pansies. One small whiff and I am instantly transported back in time to our neighbor’s garden. His tiny collection of purple pansies was my very first experience with flowers. I can still remember, at age 5, the thrill of touching those velvety blooms.

purple pansies

Fragrance can evoke memories.

Indeed, even the smallest fragrant garden can have a big impact on our sense of well-being. For instance, by siting scented plants along a walkway it allows them to release their aromas when people touch or brush by them. This unexpected experience can produce a powerful effect.

garden path
Whatever location you choose for your scented plants, make sure it’s a sunny, well-sheltered site. Enclosed spaces work best because they not only protect delicate blooms but also help concentrate the plants’ individual scents. And this heightens the overall effect of the garden.


A well-designed fragrant garden follows the same tiered layout of the perennial garden. That is, it consists of a mix of tall, medium and low-growing plants that each complement each other. When designing your garden, make sure to plan for a succession of blooms that balances fragrance along with leaf shape, texture and flower color.

That being said, never fixate on just one scent. This can quickly become overpowering and detract from the overall interest of the garden.

white jasmine


A good rule of thumb is to use taller, scented shrubs as a backdrop to your fragrant garden, or select just one as an anchor. And remember to site medium-sized plants forward of larger shrubs. Most importantly, save low-growing, sweet-scented perennials, annuals and herbs for the front of the garden.


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.

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

(This post was updated February 2019)


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