There are so many choices of scented plants, both sweet and savory, and some even a little spicy to choose from. Here we have compiled a list of aromatic flowers and foliage that is sure to please the eye, gladden the heart, and delight the nose.
Note: Zones given refer to Sunset's Western Garden Zones
These plants are in the Iris family and originally from South Africa. The cultivars used in gardening today come in many colors, including yellow, white, purple, orange and pink. The plants are usually sold as corms and planted in the fall, though they can be found as gift plants at nurseries and grocery stores in springtime as well.
The flowers have a spicy sweet fragrance that infuses the air around them. The foliage is a clump of flat, linear leaves, much like Daylily. Zones 8, 9, 12-24.
Naked Lady (Amaryllis belladonna)
This South African native does outstandingly well in a Mediterranean climate. It needs a sunny location, and a dry dormant period. Green, strap shaped leaves form a clump, and by summer have all died down, but during late summer and fall the plant sends up stalks bearing 2-12 pink or white trumpet shaped flowers that have a delicious, lily-like scent.
Naked Ladies have naturalized throughout Southern California, and can be quite prolific after a fire. Zones 4-24
Lily (Lillium sp.)
There are so many lilies to choose from; they all have such a powerful, exotic scent. Three popular hybrids are Oriental, Aurelian, and Asiatic.
Bulbs should be planted with ample organic material, and remember to never let them dry out. Blooms often come during the summer, with up to 20 blooms per plant. Lilies come in many colors and shades, from pure white to deep maroon. Zones vary.
Nothing proclaims the beauty of spring like a Wisteria vine in full bloom. Purple, dark purple, or white cascades of blossoms are richly scented with notes of Lilac and Jasmine.
These plants are adaptable and thus can be grown as shrubs, vines, and multi-stemmed small trees. They are long lived but should be carefully pruned and given excellent drainage.
The most commonly planted Wisteria in the West is Wistera sinensis, zones 3-24.
Easter Lily Vine (Beaumontia grandiflora)
Beaumontia grandiflora has extremely showy flowers, bell shaped with five petals and large throat. These sturdy vines like it hot and moist, and can be deciduous in subtropical climates.
The vine sports large glossy leaves and needs full to partial sun. It likes rich and well drained soil. The bold and showy blooms have a light, sweet smell. Zones 12, 13, 16, 17, 21-24, H1, H2.
Star Jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides)
An Asian native in the Milkweed family, this evergreen liana has small white flowers that have a heady scent. Oil from Star Jasmine is used in the perfume industry and in making incense. The vine is not a true Jasmine, but has the same sweet scent that fills the air every spring. The vine can be trained up a wall, on a trellis, arbor, and is often used as a ground cover.
It grows in sun and in shade, and needs moderate water to flourish. It is also known to tolerate heat and humidity. Zones 8-24, H1, H2.
Banana Shrub (Magnolia figo) formally known as Michelia figo
Lush foliage and aromatic flowers make this slow growing shrub an ideal addition to your garden. The leaves are glossy, and the flowers smell like ripe bananas.
This shrub grows 6-8 feet high and 3-5 feet wide. The flowers are creamy white with a dark outline. The variety 'Port Wine' has deep purple flowers. Zones 9, 14-24, H1, H2.
Lilac (Syringa vulgaris)
The Lilac is a small tree or large shrub, with common cultivars ascending about 13-16 feet in height. The light purple (or white, red, or burgandy) inflorescences bloom in mid spring to early summer, depending on temperature. The scent is sweet, and is similar to that of Wisteria and Jasmine.
The flowers bloom in panicles on old wood, so hold off pruning until after flowering, if it must be done. Lilacs are deciduous shrubs that can be used as a background shrub or as a specimen. Regular watering and a pre-blooming dose of fertilizer helps this shrub perform at its best. Zones A1-A3, 1-11, 14. Try S. x persica for zones 18-22.
Try these award winning cultivars:
'Firmament' Pale lilac-blue flowers
'Madame Lemoine' Double white flowers
'Charles Joly' Deep purple blooms
Natal Plum (Carissa macrocarpa)
This evergreen shrub does very well in coastal regions, zones 22-24 and H2, it can take salt spray, wind, and a variety of soil conditions. The plant sports short spines, but some varieties are spineless. The five petaled white flowers look like stephanotis blossoms (commonly used in the floral industry) and smell just as sweet. The red fruit can be eaten and used to make jelly.
This shrub makes an excellent hedge, as well as a ground cover. Try 'Green Carpet' for a low growing trailing plant. 'Variegata' has slightly variegated leaves.
More fragrant shrubs
Sweet Pea (Lathyrus odoratus)
Sweet Pea blooms in spring and has tender tendrils that allow it to climb on a support. The flowers come in various shades, from white, to pink, purple, and blue, with bi-colored varieties available.
The plants should be kept moist, and given full sun to partial sun. Sweet peas have a light, sweet smell that lingers in the air. They also make excellent cut flowers. All zones.
Violet (Viola odorata)
These sweet little annuals have heart shaped leaves and purple and white flowers. Violet is known to have a flirtatious scent as its fragrance comes and goes, due to the presence of the compound Ionone in the flowers, which turns off the ability for humans to smell the fragrant compound for moments at a time, until the nerves can recover. Zones 1-24
Sweet Violet can be grown from seed, most garden cultivars found in 6-packs at nurseries are bred for big, showy blooms, not scent.
Mignonette (Reseda odorata)
The essential oils from this plant have long been used in sweet smelling perfumes.
This annual reaches 6-12 inches in height and may be planted in sun or part shade. The blooms are greenish white with numerous orange stamens.
The flowers appear in June to October and are heavily scented. You can grow these from seeds in many types of soil, but be careful, this plant is known to wander. Zones 1-24.
Rocket Candytuft (Iberis amara)
This little ground cover loves the sun and can tolerate the heat as well. Excellent in rock gardens, Iberis amara emits a sweet summery scent and is nearly always covered in white flowers. Zones 1-24
Use it by a stream or pond, or gathered next to stepping stones. It also has a wonderful habit of spilling over, so its a good candidate to grow in containers.
More fragrant annuals
Scented Geranium (Pelargonium sp.)
Pelargoniums are excellent potted plants, but they can also be used in a garden bed. The leaves of scented geranium are the source of their wonderful scent, and when brushed or bruised, emit more wafts of delightful odor.
Try these captivating scented geraniums:
Winter Daphne (Daphne odora)
Daphnes like well-drained soil and this evergreen shrub also needs about three hours of shade a day. During summer months, water this divinely scented plant sparingly. It is also important to note that Winter Daphne likes acidic soil, so make amendments where needed.
D. odora 'Marginata' has yellow lined leaves that stand out in the shade, or try 'Alba' with white flowers. Zones 4-10, 12, 14-24.
A member of the Hydrangeaceae family, this plant can be a large shrub or small tree. The flowers of Philadelphus species have the sweet, citrus smell of orange blossoms, with an undertone of Jasmine. This late bloomer has beautiful white blossoms in late spring and early summer.
The plant is evergreen in warmer climates, deciduous in colder. Mockorange can tolerate different soil conditions but prefers well drained soil.
Philadelphus x virginalis 'Virginal': Very heavily scented with white double flowers, zones A3, 1a, 2-17
Philadelphus microphyllus: Slow growing, compact, and flowers in June, zones 1-3, 7, 10, 14-16, 18
Philadelphus pubescens: Tolerates many soil conditions, and has gray downy hair on leaf undersides.
Fun fact: The species is names after an ancient Greek king, Ptolemy II Philadelphus.
More fragrant perennials
Winter's Bark (Drimys winteri)
This beautiful tree is native to South America and likes a cool, coastal climate. Red brown bark is a nice addition to the glossy, elliptical, and fragrant leaves. The winter and spring blooms have a jasmine-like scent.
The bark is sometimes used as a pepper replacement. The leaves have a peppery flavor as well. This tree takes moderate water in full to part sun. Zones 5-9, 14-24.
Sweet Box (Sarcococca ruscifolia)
This is one shrub that can tolerate deep shade, and blooms in winter as well. Evergreen Sweet Box infuses the winter air with a powerful and sweet fragrance and delicate white flowers. Bright red fruit follows, making it an interesting specimen for much of the year.
It can be grown as an espalier, but is a slow grower to 4-6 feet high, 3-7 feet wide. Give this shrub moderate to regular water. Zones 4-9, 14-24.
Lily-of-the-Valley Tree (Clethra arborea)
A mid to late summer bloomer that prefers part shade. Evergreen tree that reaches 20 feet tall and about 10 feet wide, and sports glossy leaves with a bronze sheen. White flowers clustered at tips that both look and smell like lily-of-the valley. Zones 15-17, 21-24.
More Fragrant Trees
Get Fire Ready!
Wildfires are devastating forces that can sweep through your property and destroy everything in its path. Prepare for the upcoming fire season by utilizing firewise design and maintaining your property with these tips and guidelines.
The first thirty feet around your home is very important in thwarting the worst effects of a wildfire. The first 5 feet or so from your home should be planted sparingly--no overhanging trees, chaparral shrubs, or flammable decking, fencing, etc. Remember that trees should be 10 feet away from your chimney.
Extend hardscape made of nonflammable materials like concrete, stone, and composite materials for the first thirty feet around your house for maximum fire safety. Use fire-resistant plants (see below) that are well-watered and pruned regularly in this zone as well. Lawns are OK for this zone, just make sure they are well-watered and mowed regularly.
The next zone is 30 to 100 feet away from your home is the green zone, with low growing shrubs (regularly watered and pruned), trees, and hedges. Plant trees far apart, so that a fire can't jump from one tree to the next easily, and refrain from planting shrubs and vines beneath them. Stagger your screening hedges; they act as a flame highway if planted in a straight line. Remember spacing is crucial, as well as cleaning up any dry debris from the plants.
Fire Resistant Plants
These plants can slow a fire down, but be sure to water and prune them!
These structurally striking, water filled plants are native to the most wildfire prone parts of the country, the West and Southwest. There are so many Agave species to choose from, each one remarkably beautiful.
Plant them in groups, or as a single specimen. They are also drought tolerant and look great with other succulents.
Arctostaphylos uva-ursi is a great ground cover with winter interest (red-tinged leaves) and delicate pink blossoms in the spring and summer.
Plant in sun to light shade. Pinemat Manzanita is a good slope stabilizer, and its leaves make an excellent tea. Zones A1-A3, 1-9, 14-24
Mimulus sp. are charming, versatile, and heat adapted perennials native to the West. There is a recently discovered native Monkey flower to the Santa Barbara region, called the Vandenburg Monkey flower.
Blooms are usually orange, but also come in yellow, red, or bi-colored. They are easy to grow in Southern California and bloom for most of the year and attract hummingbirds and Checkerspot butterflies.
Monkey flower is also known to thrive in any kind of soil, so give it a try! Zones vary, take a look in Sunset Gardening book for reference.
Mahohia repens can be grown in zones 2b-9 and 14-24, and provides yellow spring flowers, blue berries in the summer and bronze leaves in the fall. This evergreen ground cover likes the sun or part shade.
It is a great perennial under oaks and can tolerate low water conditions and is tolerate of frost, heat and is deer-resistant. A tough and versatile plant!