10 Shrubs That Smell as Good as They Look

My Garden Life
October 3, 2018
Table of Contents

Gardeners often pick out shrubs by imagining how they will appear when placed in the landscape. A graceful shrub can add depth to a border garden, cover up an unsightly feature, or form part of a grouping around an entrance or a deck. But there’s another aspect to consider–fragrance. Here’s a list of ten shrubs that promise to smell just as good as they look.

1. Lilac

(Syringa vulgaris)
Syringa vulgaris - Lilac shrub and close up of purple flowersWhen the heady perfume of lilac fills the air, it’s a sure sign that spring is about to turn to summer. The low-maintenance lilac bush is covered with pink, purple, or white conical blossoms for a week or two in late spring. The rest of the summer and fall, a lilac shrub provides a nice backdrop to display colorful flowering annuals and perennials.

2. Fragrant Olive, Tea Olive

(Osmanthus fragrans)
Osmanthus fragrans - Fragrant Olive, Tea Olive, close up of clusters of white flowersThe evergreen tea olive is a low-maintenance, disease-resistant shrub with unassuming white flowers that emit a heady perfume that’s been described as half jasmine, half gardenia. In the South, the tea olive can bloom intermittently throughout the year, while further north, its blossom time is late summer into fall and sometimes again in the spring. The tea olive is versatile and can be trimmed into a hedge near the house (so its scent can be enjoyed inside and out) or shaped into a tree that can grow up to ten feet (three meters) high.

3. Mock Orange

(Philadelphus lewisii)
Philadelphus lewisii - Mock Orange shrub and close up of white flowersMock orange is another shrub that produces sweet-smelling blossoms in late spring. In fact, mock orange gets its common name from the orange-blossom scent of its flowers. The stems of fragrant white blooms make this a favorite for use in bridal bouquets. A mature mock orange grows five to seven feet high (1.5 to 2 meters), so make sure you plant it where it has room to reach its full size.

4. Summersweet

(Clethra alnifolia)
Clethra alnifolia - White and Pink Summersweet floweringSummersweet is a delightfully fragrant bush that blooms in late summer. It’s often called “pepperbush” because the fruits the develop in fall resemble peppercorns. This sturdy shrub, which can grow up to eight feet (2.5 meters) tall, also puts on a stunning autumn show with vibrant yellow and orange leaves.

5. Arabian Jasmine

(Jasminum sambac)Jasminum sambac - Arabian jasmine shrub and close up of white flowerArabian jasmine is a versatile, evergreen shrub with tiny white flowers that pack a powerful scent. Flowers appear over a long season from spring through summer, and the blooms open in the evening to release their exotic, sweet scent. Arabian jasmine can be grown as a low bush or grown in a large container. Because this is a fast grower, more akin to a vine than a shrub, Arabian jasmine does well trained to fences, privacy screens, or arbors.

6. Gardenia

(Gardenia jasminoides)
Gardenia jasminoides - Gardenia shrub and close up of white flowerGardeners have had a romance with the sweet scent of gardenia flowers for centuries. The fragrance of the waxy white blooms is often described as “intoxicating” or “exotic”. But gardenias are a shrub you can love year-round. Its rose-like white blossoms scent the garden from late summer through fall, but the gardenia keeps its glossy, dark green foliage through the winter. Plant in masses as you would azaleas or grow gardenias in containers on the deck. Gardenias grow best in USDA zones 8 (10° to 20°F) and higher but they can be grown in containers and brought indoors in areas with frigid winters.

7. Mexican Orange Blossom

(Choisya ternata)
Choisya ternata, close up of  Mexican orangle blossom's white flowersA native of the American Southwest and into Mexico, the Mexican orange blossom lives up to its name. This shrub produces flowers that resemble those on orange trees with an aroma that smells straight out of an orange grove. Even its evergreen glossy leaves have a citrusy scent! Butterflies, bees, and other pollinators are attracted to the scent of Mexican orange blossom’s flowers, which appear in spring and again in late summer. This bush does best in warmer climates, USDA zones 8 and above (10° to 20°F) but can be grown in containers further north and protected from the cold over the winter.

8. Daphne

(Daphne species)
Daphne shrubs and close up of pale pink flower clusterThe dainty Daphne bears clusters of sweet-smelling pink and white flowers in spring. These are followed with red berries over the summer. The berries make a great contrast with the broad, bold foliage. Daphne grows only to about three feet (one meter) in a dense rounded shape, making this the perfect choice around the foundation of a house, in front of fences, in border gardens, or along paths.

9. Michelia

(Michelia alba)
Michelia alba - Michelia close up of white flowerMichelia is a very popular landscaping shrub in Asia. It grows best in Southern regions of the U.S., in USDA zones 10 and 11 (30°F and above). Michelia produces tropical-looking white flowers with an intense perfume from winter until summer. Further north, the Michelia does well in containers but must be brought in over the winter to survive.

10. Sweetspire

(Itea virginica)
Itea virginica - Sweetspire Shrub BloomingSweetspire is an easy-care shrub, about four feet by four feet (1.2 by 1.2 meters) at maturity that isn’t fussy about soil or weather conditions. It produces fragrant drooping white flowers in early summer and turns deep red in the fall.

“Take time to smell the flowers” doesn’t have to be just a cliché. Make it a part of your daily life by adding one or more of these fragrant shrubs to your home landscape.

6 Comments

  1. Ted

    Any ideas on how to make a mock orange give out scent? I have a tall, beautiful bush in my back yard which blooms prolifically but gives nary a whiff of any scent. Help!

    Reply
    • My Garden Life

      Hi Ted,
      It could be a couple of things – there is actually a species of mock orange native to North America that doesn’t produce a lot of fragrance, Philadelphus inodorus. If your shrub naturalized on its own (not purchased and planted), this is a possibility.

      Otherwise, different cultivated varieties do display differences in growth habit, foliage color, and they can vary in the intensity of flower fragrance. If you decide to replace your shrub, you should look for varieties developed from the Philadelphus genus and species that are known for their fragrance: Philadelphus coronaria, Philadelphus x lemoinei, or Philadelphus lewisii.

      Our research revealed one suggestion that unseasonably hot weather during the flower bud development could impact fragrance. Because mock orange favors cooler temperatures (USDA zones 4-8, depending on the species), there could be truth to this. The flowers are typically most fragrant in the cooler temperatures of evening as well.

      In general, you’ll get the best performance from your mock orange shrub if you make sure it gets ample water during hot, dry spells and fertilize it each spring either with compost or a fertilizer designed for flowering shrubs. The buds for next season’s flowers will be forming on this season’s branches. You can help ensure they get the best chance for development – and fragrance – by maintaining a healthy plant.

      Reply
      • Cesca

        I have a Philadelphus lewisii ‘Covelo’ in 5 gallon container. I am in zone 9b. It doesn’t have any whiff of scent. Weather has been on the cool side this year. What do I have to do to bring the scent back. It is blooming prolifically and healthy, just no scent.

        Reply
        • My Garden Life

          Hi Cesca,
          One of our readers expressed a similar problem with his mock orange this season. Our research suggested that unseasonably hot weather during the flower bud development stage can impact fragrance. Since you are already just outside the preferred zone for Philadelphus (which typically do best in zones 4-8 depending on the species), the temperatures may seem cooler to you, perhaps they’ve still been warm enough to have impacted the intensity of fragrance of your shrub?

          The Philadelphus lewisii species is one known for its fragrance, so we’ll assume that it’s cultivars should have fragrance as well, but such as the case with many roses, extensive hybridization for specific characteristics (such as size, double-petaled blooms, or increased flowering) can come at the expense of fragrance. We wish we could give you a more definitive reason, but the best we can suggest is to give it another season, assume that weather conditions will be different, and hopefully that will give you a better idea if environmental factors may be the cause.

          Reply
    • Julia

      My mother swore our philadelphus had no scent. I knew it had. Evidentially scent receptors vary between individuals.

      Reply
      • My Garden Life

        Interesting point, Julia. We hadn’t considered that possibility, so thank you for bringing it up.

        Reply

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