10 Shrubs That Smell as Good as They Look

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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 flowering<span “=””>Summersweet 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.


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