There’s nothing quite like an evening stroll through a beautiful garden. But, what makes it even more amazing is walking through a garden that has perennials that smell amazing. It’s too bad modern technology has not figured out how to pass fragrance through cyberspace, but you’ll just have to use your imagination. So come along and take a virtual stroll with us and imagine smelling each of these fragrant perennials.
Although peak season is generally the summer months in perennial gardens, there are many fragrant perennials that grace our gardens starting in early spring right through summer, and even into fall. You can find great smelling perennials for full sun, partial sun, partial shade and shade. Not only do humans love fragrant flowers, many of these plants are pollinator friendly too.
When gardeners and non-gardeners alike think of fragrant plants, the first floral scent that comes to mind is roses. Roses are definitely among the most popular fragrant flowers. Okay, I have a confession to make… I do not grow roses! There I said it! I have lots of gardens and you will not find a rose bush in any of them. I’ve tried, really I have and I hate to admit defeat, but they are just too much trouble. Many varieties here in my zone 4 gardens have to have winter protection and many pests like them, and on and on. Oh, but I do love the intoxicating scent of roses!
Roses do best in a full sun garden with rich, fertile soil. Most roses will start blooming in late spring and bloom right into fall. You can pretty much find roses that will grow in most gardening zones.
Of all the plants on this list, Oriental Lilies are probably the most pungent smelling flower. One doesn’t even have to actually sniff the flower to catch its heady fragrance. Oriental Lilies are a must have flower if you want a fragrant garden. Oriental lilies are generally the last of those in the lilium genus to bloom and they will add their aroma to your garden for weeks in late summer.
Although many in my gardens have sturdy stems, some need to be staked to protect them from falling over from wind or their heavy blooms. Oriental lilies are grown from bulbs that are planted in spring or fall. They like full sun, but will do okay in partial sun too. If you don’t have oriental lilies make plans to add some to your gardens soon. They are hardy in zones 4 – 10.
Tall Garden Phlox – Oh how I love the sweet fragrance of tall garden phlox. It’s simply amazing! Summer phlox is a must have classic perennial. If deadheaded, they will continue to bloom for weeks in the summer. When shopping at your local garden center for tall garden phlox, look for varieties that claim disease resistance on their tag.
In addition to its sweet fragrance, I like the soft pink flowers of Thai Pink Jade (pictured below). David, a variety with luminous white flowers, is also resistant to powdery mildew. Tall garden phlox will grow well in full to part sun, and is hardy in zones 3-9.
Sweet William (Dianthus Barbatus) – I can’t get enough of Sweet William. It has a subtle sweet fragrance that bees and butterflies love. Ball-shaped Sweet William are also excellent cut flowers. You can do an entire bouquet of Sweet William, or mix it in with other flowers.
Sweet William is considered a biennial plant, or short-lived perennial. If the plant isn’t deadheaded, it will reseed. Full to part sun and hardy in zones 3-9.
Peonies are actually on another list here on Gingham Gardens… Overrated Perennials. But, oh how I love them for the entire week that they bloom (said in jest… sort of). The smell of a peony is one that can’t be duplicated, it’s simply heavenly. Yes, they are a diva when it comes to showy flowers and I would never dedicate lots of space for them, but I will keep them for their short-lived beauty and fragrance. Peonies prefer full sun and are hardy in zones 3-8.
Irises always surprise me with their fragrance. Most are fragrant, but some are not. I always forget how good they smell, until I’m working in the garden and get a whiff of their fragrance. It’s hard to describe, it’s like a deep, sweet smell, with just a little spice thrown in for good measure. Haha, crazy description, I know. They are another short bloomer that makes our overrated list, but I keep adding different varieties to my gardens.
I am a collector of daylilies, but I’ve never thought about them as fragrant flowers. Yet many varieties of daylilies are listed as having a sweet scent. Here are just a few:
- Siloam Double Classic – sweet fragrance.
- Buttered popcorn Subtle fragrance that does not smell like buttered popcorn.
- Even the ever popular, Stella De Oro daylily is listed as having a fragrance.
- Fairy Tail Pink – light, sweet fragrance.
Go smell your daylilies and see if you can identify a fragrance.
Did you know that many Hostas (the quintessential shade garden plant) have fragrant flowers? I usually cut the flowers off in my hosta gardens, but I do enjoy adding the fragrant ones to bouquets, especially the pure white flowers. I find myself smelling hosta flowers now before trimming them off the plant. If they smell good, they get to stay. The bees appreciate it when I choose to leave the hosta flowers in the garden.
Bee Balm (a/k/a Monarda) If you’re cleaning up your garden in spring and you smell a minty fresh aroma, it’s likely bee balm. It is fragrant from the time the new growth breaks ground in spring and anytime you brush it during the summer. Just a fun fact, Bee Balm does not have fragrant blooms, it’s actually the leaves of the plant that produce the spicy scent. Of course, it’s a favorite of bees too.
Look for powdery mildew resistant varieties and give it room to spread in your gardens. It will grow well in full to part sun in zones 3 – 9. Although in my zone 4b garden I find that the blooms last longer in partial sun and even part shade.
I have Hyacinths planted by our front door and they have such a pungent aroma that people coming to visit always ask what smells so good. Hyacinths are grown from a bulb that’s planted in the fall for bloom the following spring. If you don’t already have them in your garden, be sure to add hyacinths to your list of spring bulbs to plant this fall. Hyacinths do best in full sunlight and are hardy in zones 4-8, but may need a period of chilling in warmer zones.
I cannot recommend adding this amazing smelling plant to your gardens, but if you have Lily of the Valley enjoy it for its aroma, before it takes over your garden. Seriously, if planted in the right conditions, it will take over the entire garden. It’s one of the plants I include in 14 Plants Not to Grow in Your Garden. I do love having little bouquets of lily of the valley for my bathrooms, Many gardeners have suggested planting it in a bucket in your garden to help contain it, but I have not tried that yet.
If you’re weeding your garden and suddenly get a craving for licorice, it’s because you’re close to Agastache (a/k/a Anise Hyssop). Agastache blooms in early – mid summer and is a favorite of bees and butterflies. Agastache is hardy in zones 4-10 and prefers full sun. Many varieties are not hardy in zone 4, so be sure to check the USDA hardiness zone before purchasing a plant.
Agastache is a North American native plant, but can be prone to reseeding in some garden settings. If you want a great smelling perennial that brings pollinators to your garden, plant agastache.
It’s just not possible to have an article about fragrant perennials and not include Lavender. Although perennial lavender is iffy for us gardeners in zone 4, there are some varieties that are said to be hardy in zone 4. They include munstead and phenomenal. Hidicote is another variety that is hardy to zone 3 if given winter protection.
I would love to have a big patch of lavender growing in one of my flower gardens and just writing about this reminds me that I really want to try it again. I can just picture the beautiful purple flowers and imagine the fragrance. You just can’t beat the spicy fragrance of lavender and it’s a great plant for bees too. I would even like to learn how to make essential oil from my own crop some day.
Catmint – Although some love the smell of catmint (a/k/a nepata), I do not. It has a unique aroma, kind of a slight mix of mint and something else. Haha, how’s that for a description. Just an additional fact… Although catmint and catnip are in the same genus, nepata, they are not the same plant. Cats love catnip and some may be okay with catmint.
Catmint is one of the longest blooming perennials in my gardens. If it starts looking a little shabby, all it takes is a good haircut to revive it. There are many different varieties of catmint that start blooming in late spring and on through fall. They prefer full sun, but will do okay in part sun too. Hardiness zones 3 – 9.
Russian Sage produces the savory aroma of… wait for it… sage. Russian Sage is a tough perennial that can take heat and dry conditions. Beware that many of the older varieties of Russian Sage can be very aggressive in a garden, so look for modern hybrids that aren’t. I have Blue Jean Baby and Little Spire and they are both very well behaved. Bees love the tall spikes of blue flowers. Russian Sage prefers full sun and is hardy in zones 4-9.
Sweet autumn clematis is a late summer, early fall blooming clematis that can be very aggressive and even invasive in some areas. The sweet smell is awesome! We inherited some growing on a fence on the far side of the yard away from our other gardens. All you have to do is walk by the plant, even several feet away, to catch a whiff of its sweet fragrance. If you decide to add it to your yard, I would recommend planting it away from your other gardens.
Honeysuckle is an amazing smelling perennial vine, but is also available in bush form. Some varieties can be invasive in most of the United States, so do your homework before adding it to your garden. When you get the right honeysuckle for your garden, you will love it, along with bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. The hummers especially love the tubular flowers of honeysuckle.
Although we dedicated this post to perennials that smell amazing, there are many other fragrant bloomers that you can add for a scented garden that aren’t perennials. Annual flowers like sweet alyssum or cherry pie scented heliotrope with its lovely purple blooms, etc. etc. And, what about the pleasant aroma of lilacs in early summer. We could go on and on, but perhaps we’ll do another post on fragrant flowers.
What are your favorite perennials that smell amazing? Please let us know by leaving a comment below.
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