The 12 Most Strongly Scented Shrubs

Buddleia 'Black Knight'
Buddleia ‘Black Knight’

Fragrant plants create an instant sense of mystery in the garden. You might get out of a car and a scent hits your nose. Immediately, you want to know what smells so good. If you’re a gardener, you might search around a bit. If you’re not, you simply enjoy the experience. Either way a surprise has happened, a special moment that hadn’t occurred before. Fragrance does that for us.

A lot of plants are fragrant, the choices can be overwhelming, but I always crave that knocked-in-the-nose moment. I walk out the door in the morning and suddenly catch a sweet smell. I pass by someone’s house while walking the dog and I’m hit by a spicy odor. Those are the kinds of plants I include in my garden, those with a sweetness that saturates the air. I don’t have to walk over to them, they come to me. I still enjoy lavender and roses and other plants I might go to to sniff, but for that sudden, unexpected experience, I plant the fragrant plants that spray their perfume far and wide. Here are my top twelve most strongly fragrant shrubs.

Daphne × transatlantica ‘Blafra’ (Eternal Fragrance)
Daphne × transatlantica ‘Blafra’ (Eternal Fragrance)

I’ve chosen to list simply by genus because for just about all of these plants, all species are nicely fragrant. And of course, one could argue I excluded some, and I did, because in my experience, these next 12 are the most reliably, strongly odoriferous.

  1. Buddleia – Some buddleias are on the noxious weed list in certain states. Check your state’s list. Many cultivars are not. They come in lavender, yellow, white, pink. And yes, butterflies love these “butterfly bushes.”
  2. Choisya – There are a few cultivars of this evergreen, citrus-scented shrub. Gorgeous glossy green leaves. Some people don’t care for the fragrance. I do.
  3. Cistus – The leaves of this low-growing mounding shrub are mostly fragrant here. It’s a fresh, cold scent that fills the hot air of summer, in California especially.
  4. Clethra – Sweet fragrance, long mid-summer blooms. Deciduous.
  5. Clereodendrum – Strong, strong sweet smell in late summer followed by gorgeous steely blue berries. Can be a large shrub or small tree. Can spread by suckers into a thicket.  Beautiful spade leaves that smell oddly like burnt peanut butter. Plant near a patio or front porch.
  6. Daphne – Like Clethra, strongly sweet smell that can overwhelm. All daphnes are wonderful. They tend to lose their lower leaves and look spindly. They’re also nearly impossible to transplant, but their crazy-delightful flowers make up for all of these drawbacks in early Spring.
  7. Osmanthus – Osmanthus has several different cultivars, some variegated. They bloom at different times. ‘Goshiki’ is a nice compact form dusted with variegation.
  8. Philadelphus – Has a light citrusscent in mid-June, deciduous. Can get tall and unruly but pruning some older canes out helps with this. Plant in the back of the border.

    Sarcococca ruscifolia
    Sarcococca ruscifolia
  9. Pittosporum – Large-ish evergreen shrub in the NW. Strong scent. Behaved tight rounded form. The light green variegated form is tender in the NW.
  10. Sarcococca – Sarcococca ruscifolia is the largest of sarcococcas and hence has the most fragrance. The scent hits your nose long before you see the plant. Blooms in January in the Northwest when little else is happening in the garden.
  11. Syringa – Any lilac will do the trick. I like ‘Madame Lemoine’ because its white color and fragrance is so pure and bold.
  12. Viburnum – Some say V. tinus is a yucky smell, but I find it pleasant. Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’ is an upright, narrow, vase-shaped shrub that sends its dry, rosy fragrance into the air. Plant it by an entry or driveway.


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