If gazing at the beauty of the flowers we grow is a joy, inhaling their fragrance borders on the divine. There is nothing like stepping out your door and being enveloped in scent, especially from the flowers you have grown yourself. The experience is unforgettable. That fragrance is a reward for all your hard work and reason alone to embrace gardening.
Yet a flower's scent isn't for us. It's for pollinators. The ability of a scent to carry in the air is crucial to that species' survival. The farther a scent can travel, the better it can catch the attention of a faraway bee or moth. It's not by accident that so many of the most fragrant flowers are white. Biologically these species "decided" over millions of years to put their energy into developing fragrance rather than color, and plant breeders have helped them along ever since.
Here are seven plants that I have either grown in one of my gardens over the years, or have encountered in bloom firsthand and can attest to the strength of their fragrance. For the fullest scent experience, some plants such as summersweet or nicotiana should be planted in multiples, while for others, such as mock orange, a single specimen is enough.
6 Uncommon Plants With Uncommonly Strong Fragrance
Mock orange (Philadelphus): An old-fashioned shrub that isn't planted much nowadays. In late spring, thousands of white flowers with yellow stamens bloom on arching stems that can reach 8 feet or more. The scent is a knockout. Cars will stop when I'm in the garden and ask where the fragrance is coming from. Mock orange is undistinguished when not in bloom, so site it where it will be unobtrusive. Full sun to part shade. Zones 5 to 8.
Nicotiana (Nicotiana sylvestris), also called flowering tobacco: An annual that blooms on warm summer nights with trumpet-shaped clusters of flowers atop large leaves. The scent is intoxicating and a highlight of the season. Full sun to part shade. Grows two to six feet tall and three feet wide. Hardy in zones 10 and 11.
Tuberose (Polianthes tuberose): Spikes of tightly packed, single or double white flowers on two to three foot stems bloom in late summer. The heady fragrance is described as "extremely intense." It's a popular cut flower; though note that all parts of the plant are poisonous. Not hardy north of zone 7, but a terrific choice for containers. Can be treated as an annual, or the rhizomes can be dug up and stored over winter. Full sun.
Daphne: Daphnes are small shrubs grown specifically for their intensely fragrant, pale pink flowers, which bloom mid-spring, though winter daphne, D. ordora, will bloom in February or March in some parts of the country. This variety tops out at about 3 to 4 feet. Daphnes come with a caveat: they can be finicky and up and die for seemingly no reason, particularly in cold areas. Excellent drainage, along with protection from winter winds and full sun, will help. Part shade (and they mean it). Zones 4 (supposedly) to 8.
Summersweet (Clethra alnifolia) I would be remiss if I didn't include at least one fragrant plant that's native to North America. Summersweet is one of the few fragrant shrubs that blooms in high summer. Upward-facing wands of soft white flowers are beloved by bees and butterflies. Lower growing varieties are a good choice around a patio or along a walkway. Terrific fall color, too. Full sun to part shade. Heights vary from 3 feet to 8 feet. Zones 3 to 9.
Hosta: Yes, I know. Why is the common hosta on this list? Though known for their fabulous leaves and architectural form, hundreds of varieties of hosta have spikes of lovely lavender or white flowers with a luscious scent. It wafts across my late summer garden, drawing loads of pollinators. (In the past, a common name for hosta was August lily.) One of the few flowers that delivers a fragrant punch even in the shade. Hostalists.org has an exhaustive list of scented varieties. Zones 3 to 8.
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By Stephanie Pratt, InstantHedge,
Photographs courtesy of InstantHedge
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