Can’t squeeze in one more plant? Grow ground covers with fragrant foliage where you wouldn’t expect plants to thrive—between the steppers on your patio. This creeping thyme (Thymus serpyllum) has spread to form an aromatic mat that you don’t have to worry about walking on — in fact, doing so releases the herb’s fragrance.
More than any other, the sense of smell has the power to evoke memories. Maybe that’s why we favor some plants — their scents revive memories of people or times we love to recall.
Not everyone enjoys the same kinds of scents. Some people like strong perfumes that permeate the area, like those of common lilacs or lily-of-the-valley. Other people lean more toward lighter scents — the sweeter, the better. The scents of Japanese wisteria and Peruvian daffodil have this type of fragrance. Fortunately for all of us, there are plants with lots of different perfumes, so choose the ones that appeal to your nose.
Below, you’ll find 10 of our favorite fragrant annuals, perennials, bulbs, shrubs and vines. Using these and your own favorites, you can delight your nose — as well as your eyes — from spring right up until winter!
Stock (Matthiola incana)
The lush flowers of ‘Hot Cakes Mix’ above are beautiful, but this plant also offers a rich, spicy scent. Stock grows best in cool conditions in spring or fall in a sunny, well-drained spot. It’ll even tolerate some shade, though you may get fewer blooms. Pinch back the growing tips before it buds out and you’ll get a fuller plant. To take full advantage of that lovely fragrance that's most intense in the evening, place young plants in a windowbox, where the perfume can waft in on the breeze.
Type Tender perennial (often grown as an annual) Blooms White, pink, red, lavender or purple blooms in cool weather in spring or fall Size 12 to 18 in. tall, 10 to 12 in. wide Light Full sun to part shade Hardiness Cold zones 7 to 10, heat zones 12 to 1
Heliotrope (Heliotropium arborescens)
Heliotrope’s scent of warm vanilla (or sometimes cherry pie) is most noticeable on warm evenings, and if you like butterflies, growing this plant is a great way to entice them. Keep the soil evenly moist, and don’t let it dry out completely or the lower leaves will drop. When the flowers start to turn brown, lightly brush them with your hand to remove the faded blooms. After the whole cluster fades, pinch it back to a set of leaves to encourage more beautiful fragrant flowers.
Type Tender perennial (usually grown as an annual) Bloom Clusters of purple or white flowers in summer Size 12 to 18 in. tall and wide Light Full sun Hardiness Cold zones 10 to 11, heat zones 12 to 1
Lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis)
Lily-of-the-valley easily spreads into a lush mass even in deep shade, but it doesn’t exactly jump out at you. That is, until late spring, when it blooms and exudes a strong, rich fragrance. Suddenly, you notice the delicate white bell-shaped flowers. Cut a few stems and enjoy the perfume indoors. The flowers last for a week in a vase. Lily-of-the-valley is a spreader and can get aggressive after four or five years. In summer or fall, dig up some rhizomes and move them to another spot or give them to friends.
Type Perennial Blooms White or pink flowers in late spring Size 6 to 8 in. tall, spreading Light Part shade Hardiness Cold zones 2 to 7, heat zones 7 to 1
Dianthus (Dianthus spp. and hybrids)
A wide range of color choices and a heady, clovelike scent make this flower a great companion. Grow it in the well-drained soil of a rock garden or along a stone or brick path. The sun’s warmth on these hard surfaces brings out the plant’s fragrance. 'Firewitch', above, has attractive, gray-blue foliage that frames the fringed blooms from late spring into early summer. Sometimes a few flowers will appear again in summer if the weather doesn’t get too hot, especially if you keep deadheading the faded blooms.
Type Perennial Blooms Pink, red or white flowers in late spring or early summer Size 3 to 24 in. tall, 8 to 24 in. wide Light Full sun Hardiness Cold zones 3 to 9, heat zones 9 to 1
Hyacinth (Hyacinthus orientalis)
Colorful, fragrant hyacinths like ‘Blue Jacket’ above have been grown for hundreds of years. Luckily for us today, the new varieties are just as fragrant as the older ones. For the prettiest display, plant bulbs in bunches of at least three to five, about 6 to 8 in. deep and 6 in. apart. In zones 7 and colder, plant in fall, in zones 8 and warmer, in late winter. Even in the best conditions, hyacinth bulbs last just a couple years, so plant new ones each year. Use different varieties to extend the bloom from early to late spring.
Type Bulb Blooms Blue, purple, yellow, pink and white blooms in spring Size 6 to 12 in. tall, 3 to 5 in. wide Light Full sun to part shade Hardiness Cold zones 4 to 8, heat zones 8 to 1
Peruvian daffodil (Hymenocallis x festalis)
Even if they had no fragrance, the intriguing spiderlike white flowers are reason enough to grow this plant. Two to five blooms atop tall, sturdy stems last well in a vase, if you can bear to cut them. Make sure you pass by your Peruvian daffodil in the evening, when its lightly sweet fragrance is most noticeable. This fast-growing summer bulb grows and blooms in less than a month once the weather warms. Plant bulbs two to three weeks apart in late spring to keep the flowers coming. Lift the bulbs in the fall before the first frost and store them in a cool, dry area (such as your basement or garage) until nighttime temperatures stay above 60 degrees F.
Type Bulb Blooms White flowers in summer Size 24 to 30 in. tall, 12 to 18 in. wide Light Full sun to part shade Hardiness Cold zones 8 to 10, heat zones 12 to 1
Of all the fragrant flowering shrubs, lilacs are some of the best loved. And common lilacs are the most fragrant group in the family. Their scent can’t help but trigger warm childhood memories. Head outdoors after a rain when common lilac’s strong, sweet fragrance hangs in the air the longest. Lilacs need at least six hours of sun each day to produce the most blooms. In spring, loads of large, red-purple flowers form on the long stems of ‘Monge’, shown above.
Type Shrub Blooms Red, purple, blue, pink or white flowers in late spring Size 8 to 15 ft. tall, 6 to 12 ft. wide Light Full sun Hardiness Cold zones 3 to 8, heat zones 8 to 1
Mockorange (Philadelphus spp. and hybrids)
This shrub is covered in flowers with the fragrance of orange blossoms in early to midsummer. If it starts to look a little leggy after several years, prune back a third of the stems down to the ground. Do this after the blooming is finished to encourage it to put out new growth, which will form next year’s flowers. Be patient with a new plant — it takes several years for it to begin to bloom.
Type Shrub Blooms White blooms in early to midsummer Size 3 to 10 ft. tall, 3 to 8 ft. wide Light Full sun to part shade Hardiness Cold zones 4 to 8, heat zones 8 to 1
Japanese wisteria (Wisteria floribunda)
You’ll need to wait several years for a young Japanese wisteria to begin blooming. But once it does, it sometimes blooms even before the leaves have fully emerged from the twining stems. The vanilla-scented flowers open gradually, starting at the bases and working out to the tips. Often, the blooms are followed by 6-in.-long beanlike green pods. This is a hefty vine, so give it a sturdy support. And cut new shoots back by half in summer to get the most flowers and to keep the plant under control.
Type Vine Blooms Purple, pink or white blooms in late spring Size Up to 30 ft. tall, spreading Light Full sun to part shade Hardiness Cold zones 5 to 9, heat zones 9 to 1
Passion flower (Passiflora caerulea)
“Exotic” is a good word to describe passion flower's 4-in.-wide blooms. Delicately scented white, pink or red petals, ringed with a blue corona, last for just a day or so. But each plant has enough buds to go from summer to frost. The blooms are slow to open on dark, cloudy days, yet stay open all night long. Where it’s hardy, this fast-growing vine can reach 40 ft. or taller. In areas where it’s not hardy, passion flower is a great container plant. Twining tendrils hold it to the nearest plant or support.
Type Vine Blooms White, pink or red and purple flowers in summer to fall Size 15 to 40 ft. tall, spreading Light Full sun to part shade Hardiness Cold zones 6 to 10, heat zones 10 to 1