Plant Garden Scents

Close your eyes and follow your nose around the garden. Here are some fragrant-blooming shrubs that local gardening gurus plant to stimulate their sense of smell.

Korean Spice Viburnum

Susan Mertz of Loma Vista Nursery really likes Korean Spice Viburnum (Viburnum carlesii) for its early blooms and easy care. She says, “They are such a useful plant in the landscape with fragrant flowers in the spring and colorful fall foliage.” Korean Spice Viburnum will grow to six feet tall and wide. If you prefer a more compact form and size they also respond well to a pruning after the bloom time is over. They will tolerate full sun or part shade, where their white to pinkish flowers really pop against a dark background.

Northern Hi-Lights Azalea

Another recommendation from Mertz are the sweet flowers of ‘Northern Hi-Lights’ Azalea (Rhododendron ‘Northern Hi-Lights’). She likes to pair this shrub with Oakleaf Hydrangea or columbine. Best grown in dappled shade, the flowers of these azaleas will draw you in with your eyes open or closed. Just like other azaleas, ‘Northern Hi-Lights’ prefers acidic soil and is best pruned just after flowering.


Most gardens contain at least one lilac (Syringa) in their collection. Local garden designer Leah Berg grows the varieties ‘Sensation’ and ‘Cheyenne.’ Smelling these perennial favorites takes her back to her school days, walking the lilac-lined sidewalks on her way to class. Whether you prefer the classic lilacs (Syringa vulgaris) or the new ‘Bloomerang’ varieties, their smells have a deep and romantic aroma that will transform your garden.


Leah Berg is a proponent of gardening with pollinating insects in mind. She says that the summer-blooming Summersweet (Clethra alnifolia) will nourish the insect population as well as being beautiful in the garden. Their sweet-smelling bottlebrush flowers that bloom in mid to late summer are very attractive to butterflies. Summersweet prefers part shade and average moisture in the soil without drying out completely. They will slowly sucker about six feet wide, so give this shrub a little room to grow.

Witch Hazel

Garden writer Marty Ross is known for adoring witch hazel (Hamamelis). These spicy-smelling shrubs are a breath of cool, fresh air in the garden, because most species of witch hazel bloom in the late winter. They offer much needed relief from winter’s grip. In time, these slow growing shrubs have the ability to turn into pyramidal-shaped, small trees.Ross says, “I love Chinese witch hazel (H. mollis) which blooms in January and smells like Tide.” She also likes how the flower petals unfurl like party streamers and curl up again as temperatures get colder.

Clove Currant

After the witch hazel are done blooming, Ross enjoys the spicy scent of Clove Currant (Ribes odoratum). Their flowers can be enjoyed in the very early spring as a hedge or as a specimen plant. Clove Currant is a fabulous plant for native gardens. Their loose habit provides a backdrop to smaller perennial plants as well as providing a fruity food source for wildlife later in the season.

Carolina Allspice

Kansas City Master Gardener, Katherine Hoggard chose Carolina Allspice (Calacanthus floridus) as a favorite fruity-scented shrub, which have been described as combining hints of pineapple, strawberry and banana. She is amazed that the flowers that look so much like wood can have such fragrant blossoms. Carolina Allspice is easy to grow as it will tolerate many different soil types and will thrive and flower in both sun and part shade.

Zephirine Droughin Rose

A thornless climbing rose, ‘Zephirine Droughin’ (Rosa ‘Zephirine Droughin’) also tops Hoggard’s list. She says, “It smells like a rose is supposed to smell.” Many people plant the ‘Zephirine Droughin’ rose when they need a shrub to climb a wall. These “bourbon roses” will tolerate more shade than others and are known to have repeat blooms throughout the summer season. In the best conditions ‘Zephrine Droughin’ will easily grow six to ten feet tall.

Adding fragrant flowering shrubs to the garden is a benefit in so many ways. They provide nectar and pollen to bees and other beneficial insects. Their fragrances lift our spirits and evoke memories. Plant one of these beauties near a garden gate or the front door and you will be greeted with pleasant aromas every year.

Tracy Flowers is on the Horticulture staff at Powell Gardens and she works at The Ewing and Muriel Kauffman Memorial Garden. You may reach her at 816-932-1200.

To view images of the plants described, see them in the online version of the June 2016 issue at

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