Adding Fragrant Shrubs: Scented Plants For Garden Fragrance

Blooming Magnolia stellata

Our gardens are more beautiful than ever today, but they lack, more often than not, what was once considered the garden’s greatest enchantment, and that is fragrance.

I often wonder why we do not cultivate fragrance in our gardens more than we do.

The joy obtained from the sweet smell of growing things is of a deep and lasting nature. We are told there is really power in sweet scents.

For fullest enjoyment of a garden, both immediate and in memory, fragrance is a necessity.

Fragrance Spring Through Frost

If we are careful in our selections of shrubs we can have continuous fragrance from them from early spring until frost the whole season through. Let us consider a few of these shrubs.

Heading the list is Lonicera fragrantissima or winter honeysuckle. The intensely fragrant, creamy-white flowers appear on bare branches in late March, extending into April and sometimes into May. The fragrance will pervade the whole garden.

This shrub is fine for background planting as it grows from six to eight feet tall.

We must be sure to include Magnolia stellata in the planting, the next in order of bloom. When these star-like blossoms unfold in early April, their sweet scent is another delight of early spring.

This magnolia is considered the hardiest of them all. It grows as a large shrub or small tree and is best used as a specimen plant.

The dark green foliage grows very dense and if planted in direct sunshine will turn bronze in the fall. Sometimes a late spring frost will mar the blossoms, so if planted with a northern exposure the flower opening is retarded and thus protected from the cold.

Fragrant Viburnum

Next come the fragrant viburnums, Carlesi and Burkwoodi.

Blooming viburnum carlcephalum

The gardenia-like fragrance of these two shrubs will pervade a large area of the garden in late April. Of the two, I prefer the older variety Viburnum carlesii. It is of more compact growth.

The flower buds are coral-colored, opening into broad-headed white flowers that are much more sweetly scented than those of Viburnum Burkwoodi.

Then there is the hardier, blooming more profusely with larger blossoms and much more fragrant. In fact it is called the fragrant snowball. This is Viburnum carlcephalum.

Lilac Fragrance Of May

In all America it is the lilac that chiefly scents the May world and is the shrub that is the most loved and widely grown. Few shrubs are more highly scented than the old-fashioned purple and white kinds.

Blooming syringa vulgaris Congo

This is the sweet scent that brings back thoughts of school desks, old homesteads and masses of lavender bloom along the old fence. Their varieties are too numerous to mention, the dwarf Korean lilac is an excellent choice, but one I especially enjoy is Syringa laciniata or the cutleaf lilac.

The foliage is unusually attractive with leaves that are small and deeply lobed, making it an excellent garden subject throughout the season. The blossoms are shoots 12 to 14 inches long literally covered with pale lilac flowers which are deliciously scented.

Syringa laciniata does not seem to be as subject to mildew as many of the other lilacs.

The fringe-tree; Chionanthus virginicus, is a close relative of the lilac and blooms about a week later. It produces loose panicles of fleecy white flowers. Another name, “old man’s beard,” describes it somewhat.

This tree-like shrub grows about ten feet tall, prefers full sun and contributes much to the scented garden with these drooping clusters of feathery petaled fragrant blossoms.

Mock Orange or Philadelphus

It is the mock-orange or Philadelphus that brings sweet scents to the garden in June. Like the lilac it was one of the first shrubs to be brought to this country and planted in the dooryards of-the early settlers.

Blooming mock orange

With many new hybrids, these sweet scented plants are even more pronounced. Philadelphus virginalis is perhaps the most popular of the double-flowered mock-oranges, but one old-timer that excels in fragrance is ‘Belle Etoile,’ also called fragrant star mock-orange.

The delightful perfume from these star-like blossoms, with centers that show a decided light purple-flush, will permeate the entire garden.

One planted beside an open window so this delicious sweet odor can enter a room will leave memories not soon forgotten. The mock orange will thrive arid blossom in semi-shade.

Carolina AllSpice

Blooming carolina allspice

Calycanthus floridus, the old-fashioned sweet shrub or Carolina allspice, is indispensable in the, fragrant garden. Its wood, leaves, and solemn dark red blossoms emit an elusive ‘Spicy scent’ through the summer.

This shrub is native to the Southern states and has been grown in gardens from the time America was colonized.

Stories are told that country children would pick the pungent flowers, tie them in the corner of their handkerchiefs and take them to school to help revive their spirits from long tedious hours.

Hydrangea Quercifolia

The oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) – is one of the most beautiful shrubs that can be grown in the garden, and strange to say it is seldom used.

Blooming oakleaf hydrangea

The blossoms are much like those of the common Hydrangea paniculata, although much larger. They are born in enormous conical heads in June.

When they first open they are white and as the season advances they turn to a rosy hue, and at maturity they have a purplish cast. When in full blossom the plant’s sweet scent permeates the whole garden.

If this shrub never had a blossom it would be worth growing for its foliage. As the name implies the leaves are shaped like giant oak leaves and they also change in color during the season, turning to a beautiful bronze.

Of easy culture, the oakleaf hydrangea will grow in shade or in full surf.

Clethra Alnifolia

Clethra alnifolia or sweet pepper bush is another scented shrub excellent for fragrant summer bloom.

Blooming clethra alnifolia

It is native to the eastern seacoast. Around Massachusetts it is called “sailor’s delight” because the sailors coming into port would catch its lily-of-the-valley-like scent when still far out at sea.

Clethra is a shrub of compact growth, growing about four feet high with finger-like clusters of its sweetly scented white or pink flowers.

Clethra rosea is the pink variety. The blossoms fade into a pyramidal cluster of small black seeds resembling pepper corns, hence the name pepper bush. Clethra also likes a semi-shaded moist location.

To complete the fragrant summer garden are the many varieties of honey scented buddleias with their long season of bloom, and the strongly aromatic Vitex macrophylia or chaste tree which will bloom until frost.

These shrubs are all of easy culture but need sunshine. Severe pruning of both buddleias and vitex is sometimes necessary, sometimes to the ground, but they will always come back with lush growth and attractive spikes of fragrant blossoms.


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