Fragrant Plants – Other than Roses

February 14, 2008

By Victoria County Master Gardener Barb Henry
Edited by Charla Borchers Leon
Narcissus (paperwhites) have white bunches of trumpeted blooms on tall vertical stalks extending from bulbs.  They are in bloom now with a strong sweet musky scent.
Alyssum is a short mound of tiny fragrant white to lavender flowers that works well as a border plant or in pots and hanging baskets.  Needing little care it blooms fall to early summer in full sun to partial shade in average to moist soil – and best if deadheaded.
Stock is a highly fragrant stalking flower shown here in a purple shade adding height to the hanging basket. It appears in a variety of colors in nature.
Masses of fragrant yellow flowers of the Carolina Jessamine appear on the climbing vine now through summer in full sun to part shade. Caution should be taken with its plant parts that are poison.
Valentines Day!  Love is in the air … or is it the familiar fragrance of roses…the classic symbol of love?
Volumes have been written on roses.  They have been THE popular fragrant plant for so many generations that we sometimes overlook the OTHER fragrant beauties that can be in our gardens.   With a bit of planning you can have a fragrant garden even now…in the middle of February!

Fragrance An Elusive Quality

Fragrance is an elusive quality in plants. Some are known and loved the world over, like rose and lavender.  Be sure you smell a plant before you buy it on the recommendation of another gardener.  Some may be delightful to one nose and repulsive to another.  Sometimes memories are associated with fragrance and influence the desirability of one plant over another.  We may associate a pleasant past event with such things as the aroma of a gardenia bush laden with its waxy white blooms or a trellis of star jasmine in full bloom.  And who would not recall with pleasure the sweet aroma of a fence full of beautiful yellow-orange honeysuckle at its flowering peak?
More than Visual Pleasure

Fragrant plants offer so much more than just visual pleasure.  They arouse the senses and can be
relaxing, seductive, warm and friendly. Some are refreshing, energizing, while others are exotic or unusual. There are those that are strong, sweet and heavy, while others are light, delicate and vague. 
Our first reaction to flowers is usually to lean in for a deep breath of the scent, and if we find it pleasing, we immediately call its attention to others.  A faint pleasant scent detected on the breeze will usually result in time spent tracking it down.  Since the flower’s main purpose to the plant is to attract the pollinators, bees, butterflies, moths, hummingbirds, etc., some of the most fragrant plants do not have large or brightly colored flowers as their perfume is a sufficient lure.

Fragrant from Foliage; Not Flower

Often fragrances come from foliage instead of a flower and are only noticed when the leaves are brushed or bruised in passing.  Many herbs fall into this category, like rosemary, thyme and basil. Although most bloom in spring and summer, scented-leafed geraniums all have lovely foliage that give off moderate to strong fragrances: lemony citrus, rose and apple are common favorites, but also available are peppermint, eucalyptus, nutmeg, and almond.  Trailing varieties that are beautiful in hanging baskets.
Then there is the lemony scent of citronella, a member of the geranium family.  A citronella plant near the door can help keep mosquitoes away. There is the camphoric smell from the crushed leaves of the feathery gray-white artemisia, which is a beautiful background or mix for bright blooming plants and can be used as a ground cover.
Plant Strategically to Avoid Appearance

Not in love with their appearance? Many plants are worth cultivating for their fragrant foliage alone. If you are not in love with their appearance, plant them at the back of the flower bed or under a hedge, or mixed with more attractive plants along a walk way where they will be brushed or bruised and will release their beauty in scent.

Containers, Pots and Hanging Baskets

Planting very late fall or very early spring blooming plants in pots or containers makes it
possible to move them away from the cold and into more protected places to be enjoyed longer.  Plant your most desirable scents where they can be enjoyed most often… near a porch, a bench or along a main walk or entryway.  They can be very attractive in pots or hanging baskets.

Avoid Too Many Fragrances at Once

It would be wise to plant only one or two strongly fragrant plants that will be blooming simultaneously.  The close proximity of some perfumes may not give the pleasant experience desired.  Plan your fragrant garden for staggered blooming times, or depending on the size of your area, space out the stronger scented plants.
Many citrus trees are, or will be, blooming soon and nearly all of them have fragrant blossoms. If their sun and water requirements are met, many can be grown in containers to be placed where you find them most desirable. (
See recent January 17th Gardeners’ Dirt article for coverage of citrus.)

Each plant has its own unique fragrance so planning your garden will take some effort on your part.  See the side box list of fragrant plants for this area for a brief description of colors and scent.

Keep Fragrances Alive

Peak flowering of cool season bedding plants generally occurs in March, so be sure to protect tender blooming plants from a last freeze and apply appropriate fertilizers recommended for your plants.  Many early blooming spring bulbs will start to bloom this month, and it is time to divide your summer blooming bulbs and plan your summer scented garden. Some of your fragrant ground covers, like liriope, jasmine and coral ardisia, may need trimming before the new growth begins.

If the rose is STILL your fragrant plant of preference, refer to the recent
January 31st article of The Dirt for a review of EarthKind roses.  Some of the plants covered in the article are also Texas SuperStars. You may access past Gardeners’ Dirt articles published from 2003 to current by visiting the Victoria County Master Gardeners’ web site at and clicking on the Gardeners’ Dirt link bar in the left hand list of topics. Then choose a year and select the title of the article.  Our web site is updated as soon as possible for your reference.



Narcissus – includes daffodils, paperwhites and jonquils – bunches of white and/or yellow blooms on vertical stalks – blooming now with a strong sweet musky scent.
Freesia – will bloom next month, variety of color patterns, citrus-like sweet perfume, long lasting cut life, favorite of florists.


(also good in pots and baskets)

Stock – wonderful fragrance, stalking flower, variety of colors, good cut flowers, good in pots and to add height to hanging basket arrangements.

Alyssum- self-seeding annual, short mound of tiny fragrant white to lavender flowers, fall through early summer, 2” to 6” high, full sun to partial shade, in average to moist soil.  Needs little care, deadhead for continued abundant flowers.

Nemesia – good in container, now through spring, ‘berries and cream’ most fragrant with sweet scented flowers.

Drummond Phlox– perennial, full sun, keep moist, up to 1’ in height – beds, rock gardens, delightful scent, blooms April to June.

Scented-leafed Geranium – lovely foliage, in a variety of moderate to strong fragrances, trailing varieties great in hanging baskets.

Dianthus (Pinks) annual, sweet, heavily-laced soft flower with 2 or 3 distinct colors, resembles single carnation, full sun, mounds good for border and mass planting.

Petunia – blooms through winter if protected from frost and freeze, Laura Bush variety has strong scent, plant fragrance not pleasant to some.

Sweet Pea – very fragrant flowers, assorted colors, vine, good cut flower, but will not tolerate a freeze.

Winter Heliotrope (cherry pie)– up to 1’ in height, vanilla scented lilac flower heads with hint of almond, part shade, keep moist.

Carolina Jessamine – climbing vine or ground cover, masses of fragrant yellow flowers now through summer, evergreen, full sun to part shade, ALL parts of plant are poison.

Artemisia (Southernwood, wormwood) – silvery green lacy leaves, camphoric foliage, up to 3’ in height, moth repellent.


Camellia – shrub up to 6' - blooms fall to spring white to deep red in color. Needs a lot of attention, part shade, mulch and must treat alkaline soil to make it acidic, best to irrigate with rain harvested water which has less alkalinity than our local water.

Gardenia – shrub, glossy dark green foliage, blooms in March, velvety white blossoms, sweet intense fragrance, do not prune now, wait until AFTER blooms are done.

Citrus trees – most are blooming now or next month with fragrant blooms and foliage.

Texas Mountain Laurel (Mescal Bean) – shrub to tree, nicely sweet on a cool day, can be “icky” sweet on a hot day, blooms early spring, drooping purple clusters of flowers 3”-7”.

Mexican Orange – 8’ tree – blossoms are gone by now but leaves have orange fragrance when bruised.

Texas Mahonia (Chaparral Berry)– evergreen shrub with sweet deep yellow spires of flowers, blooms February to April, not usually available in nurseries.

Source:  Texas AgriLife Extension Service and Dr. William C. Welch, Landscape Horticulturist, Texas A&M University