Scented shrubs

Even the most unas­sum­ing shrub can over­whelm you with its fra­grance. Here’s our pick of the bunch.

NZ Gardener - 365 Days of Flowers - - Fragrant Flowers -

From scents of myrrh to nut­meg and vanilla, fra­grant shrubs are a breath of fresh air. Plant them where you’ll ben­e­fit most. For ex­am­ple, stan­dard­ised plants along paths are an ideal height for you to take in their aroma.


Glance un­der­neath the small box-like leaves of a low, ev­er­green sar­co­cocca hedge, and you will dis­cover white, sweetly scented tas­sels. Also known as sweet box, it fills the win­ter air with a pow­er­ful smell. Witch hazels (Ha­mamelis) are a more showy shrub, pro­duc­ing tas­sels of flow­ers in har­le­quin colours of or­ange, red and yel­low, and sweet, spicy fra­grance, also in win­ter. These are wood­land-edge shrubs, while the Cor­nelian cherry ( Cor­nus mas), is best placed where win­ter sun can il­lu­mi­nate its del­i­cate lemony flow­ers. If you want to fill a shady side pas­sage with scent, choose Daphne odora. The usual va­ri­ety you see is 'Leu­can­the' in pale pink, or 'Aure­o­marginata', which has a yel­low var­ie­ga­tion around its leaf and pinky flow­ers. White Daphne odora 'Alba' shines out even more.

Ev­er­green skim­mias, with their fi­brous, shal­low roots, are an ideal scented plant that can be bed­ded out un­der the shade of a tree dur­ing sum­mer and then dug up and planted as a cen­tre­piece in a con­tainer, adding a whiff of spring long be­fore daf­fodils and tulips have got their heads out of the ground.

Another showy scented flower in milder gar­dens are the lu­cu­lias, which are at their best in au­tumn to early win­ter. Lu­cu­lias do well in dap­pled shade with good drainage and well-mulched roots. Heavy prun­ing will keep them bushy.


David Austin was well aware of the im­por­tance of scent when he be­gan breed­ing his English roses back in the 1960s. His early roses had a scent he called myrrh. 'Le­an­der' is one – it smells like in­cense with a dash of honey and lemon­grass. David's more re­cent va­ri­eties have the tra­di­tional, heady old rose fra­grance – like 'Gertrude Jekyll'. The big, pink rosette flow­ers are so fra­grant they have been used as an in­gre­di­ent in per­fume. 'Mun­stead Wood', another fra­grant David Austin, has deep crim­son petals. As well, the Da­mask fam­ily of roses are fa­mous for their per­fume. We can still buy the an­cient pink Rosa x dam­a­s­cena var. trig­in­tipetala, more of­ten listed as 'Kazan­lik', and the Da­mask rose 'Madame Hardy' has a per­fume to die for. The Alba fam­ily is highly fra­grant too, a favourite be­ing the milk-white 'Alba Semi­plena'. Oth­ers in­clude the Bour­bon rose 'Sou­venir de la Mal­mai­son', with its large, pow­der­pink, many-petalled, quar­tered blooms, and the tough Ru­gosas that thrive in shade or sandy shore. Try 'Hansa', 'Roseraie de l'hay' and 'Blanc Dou­ble de Cou­bert'.


Vibur­num's showy, of­ten fra­grant flow­ers make per­fect spec­i­mens for both vase and bou­quet. The de­cid­u­ous forms are at the top of the list for sheer spring beauty and ease of growth, and sev­eral va­ri­eties are no­table for an aroma that can per­fume an en­tire gar­den. Vibur­num x burk­woodii (pic­tured left) is one. Even if you're look­ing the other way, it beck­ons with such a be­guil­ing sweet scent that it's hard to stop in­hal­ing.

Vibur­num x carl­cephalum emits a spicy scent as does the Korean spice vibur­num, Vibur­num car­lesii.

There are myr­iad other de­cid­u­ous vibur­nums to choose for their fra­grance, start­ing with the early bloomers like the pink-flow­ered Vibur­num x bod­nan­tense 'Dawn', which flow­ers from au­tumn through to spring, and the pink-tinged white Vibur­num far­reri, which flow­ers from mid or late win­ter.

Vibur­num japon­icum and Vibur­num odor­atis­si­mum are both ev­er­green forms with fra­grant, small white flow­ers.

Vibur­nums are easy to grow. They cope with sun, par­tial shade, clay soil and dry sum­mers. The de­cid­u­ous va­ri­eties are cold hardy; ev­er­green va­ri­eties need pro­tec­tion from win­ter winds. Vibur­num are a good ad­di­tion to the shrub bor­der, or po­si­tion them close to paths to en­joy their fra­grance as you walk by.


Most mod­ern lilac hy­brids are de­scended from Syringa vul­garis, com­pris­ing a genus of de­cid­u­ous shrubs with heart-shaped leaves and heavy trusses of four-petalled tubu­lar flow­ers. They are mostly cold cli­mate plants that of­ten grow but do not flower well in warmer ar­eas. Re­gions that ex­pe­ri­ence warm win­ters and high hu­mid­ity can have prob­lems with fun­gal dis­or­ders. These are al­ways sweetly and dis­tinc­tively fra­grant, par­tic­u­larly af­ter rain. Lilac lovers in hot­ter and hu­mid ar­eas can choose from sev­eral can­di­dates, in­clud­ing the Per­sian Syringa x per­sica, Chi­nese Syringa re­flexa and Syringa mey­eri 'Pal­i­b­ini­ana' (syn 'Pal­i­bin'). Syringa pubescens subsp. mi­cro­phylla thrives at East­wood­hill in Gis­borne. Syringa x josi­flexa 'Bel­li­cent' has gen­er­ous sprays of del­i­cate pink but hates sum­mer drought.


Bring spring in­doors with a vase full of fra­grant bulbs. Some of the most vase-wor­thy sub­jects are daf­fodils, tulips and grape hy­acinths. How­ever, if you in­clude daf­fodils in the mix, you'll need to con­di­tion them first. The white sap that ex­udes from daffodil stems is toxic to other flow­ers; it will clog their stems and pre­vent them from tak­ing up water. To con­di­tion, place cut daf­fodils in a vase with 3cm of cool water. Add sugar if you like, or flo­ral pre­serve. Af­ter a few hours the daf­fodils should have slurped up all the water. Rinse the vase and add more fresh water. Af­ter 6-8 hours, you can then place your daf­fodils in a vase with other flow­ers. Change the water daily.

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