Best Smelling Plants for Outdoor Gardens

by Ken Lain, the mountain gardener

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Growing Plants that Smell Good

Arizona is famous for outdoor activities. When all this activity brings the party to your deck, patio, or pool’s edge, the fragrance of the garden should be positive and uplifting to the friends that gather. This is the perfect place to add sweetly scented plants for ambiance. Forget the candles and citronella. The right plants remind us why the mountains of Arizona are meant to be enjoyed outdoors.

The fragrance of many plants intensified at night for yet another reason to relax under the stars. Enjoy the aromas of the sweetest-smelling plants at the garden center today.

What’s the first thing we do when we see a flower? Most of us smell it, of course. Children primarily identify the sight of a blossom with fragrance. While we can occasionally be surprised, disappointed, or repulsed by a plant’s odor, its scent is essential to gardens.

Using fragrant plants in the landscape is not a new concept. The botanical reason for plant fragrance is simple. Humans identify hundreds of odors. Many trigger solid reactions and emotions. Smells attract pollinators to the flowers. White or pastel blossoms seem to have more potent scents. This trait is probably to help them compete with their more brightly-colored cousins.

The fragrance is not limited to flowers. Heavenly aromas are found in other parts of the plant’s foliage, seeds, and bark. Herbs are perfect examples.

Viburnum by the front entrance to your home invites guests to take a moment to stop and smell the flowers. Remember, our prevailing Southwest Mountain wind directs the aroma. You want to place fragrant plants where they can be appreciated.

Best Planting Locations

Containers Gardens on Rolling Caddies – create your own portable plant aromatherapy using rolling plant caddies under your containers. Move them where you want.

Open the Window – any window that allows a breeze to enter your home is enhanced by the fragrance of plants.

Porches, Patios & Decks – anywhere you have seating is a great place to enjoy fragrant plants, especially evening blooming plants like jasmine and moonflower. A solitary bench in the garden is an excellent place to escape.

Trellis to Climb – bring the fragrance up to nose level. Arbors, especially over garden gates and pergolas, bring the aroma to you.

Walkways and Entry – passers-by enjoy the aroma of blooms. Scented leaves release their scent when brushed as you walk by.

Many of today’s prettiest new hybrids have stunning colors, but the fragrance has been bred out. Some newly introduced roses have a scant scent compared to their original cousins. 

There are still plenty of fragrant plants to choose from. Heirloom or “old-fashioned” varieties tend to be the most fragrant. Many plant tags indicate whether aroma is one of the plants’ trait. 

Here is a list of the best plants for easy fragrance through your gardens.

Annual Flowers bloom in riotous waves of fragrant colors. The best flowers are Alyssum, Marigold, Nasturtium, Pansy, Petunia, Poppy, Primrose, Stock, and Viola.

Evergreens are famous in the mountains of Arizona for their pitchy pine scent. Many have incredible flowers with a fragrance that outdoes most. Evergreens with aromas are Azalea, Cypress, Deodar Cedar, Desert Broom, Holly, Euonymus, Juniper, Lavender, Pine, Rosemary, Silver Berry, Spanish Broom, and Waxleaf Privet.

Herbs – Most herbs are fragrant. Sage and rosemary are undeniably fragrant. Creeping thyme is used as a ground cover in stepping stone walkways simply because it smells good when stepped on. Almost the entire family of herbs is fragrant: Basil, Bay, Catmint, Chamomile, Lavender, Mint, Oregano, Scented Geranium, and Thyme.

Perennials at the top of the fragrant list would have to be: Astilbe, Candytuft, Daylily, Dianthus, Hosta, Iris, Lilies, Lily-of-the-Valley, Peony, Phlox, Primrose, Russian Sage, Sedum, Sweet Woodruff, and Verbena.

Shrubs are more fragrant for one reason only, their size. The most fragrant of all would be: Butterfly Bush, Cotoneaster, Daphne, Forsythia, Gardenia, Lilac, Manzanita, Mock Orange, Osmanthus, Roses, Viburnum, Big Sage Bush, and Silverberry.

Trees come in all scents and flavors. The most notable local trees for uplifting aromas are Crabapple, Flowering Cherry, Crape Myrtle, Chitalpa, Fruit Trees, Serviceberry, Pine & Spruce.

Vines are ideal for climbing up arches, pergolas, fences, and deck posts for a fragrance that reaches any location. Have them climb or spread out as a ground cover. Here are the top picks: Akebia, Clematis, Climbing Roses, Honeysuckle, Jasmine, Lady Banks Rose, Sweet pea and Wisteria.

Until next month, I’ll be helping gardeners grow more fragrant gardens here at Watters Garden Center.

Ken Lain can be found throughout the week at Watters Garden Center, 1815 Iron Springs Rd in Prescott, or contacted through his website at or