Fragrance in the landscape is something many people desire, but don’t always get. That is because shrub selection tends to be governed by the color and timing of flowers as well as size and usefulness for such purposes as an evergreen screen.
Yet fragrance is not that difficult to achieve. Some shrubs, such as the famous gardenias, produce robust amounts of scent when in bloom, while others are more subtle, drawing you closer to sniff and enjoy.
For robust scent, several shrubs that are less well-known stand out and can be added to the landscape this fall.
For spring, there is the outstanding Korean spice viburnum, a dense, deciduous shrub, possibly 6 feet tall, that produces intensely fragrant clusters of white flowers flushed with pink. There is much to choose from among viburnums these days, but this should certainly be considered, if only for the strong scent.
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A second choice, and this is for scent and bloom in late winter, is Daphne odora. The winter daphne is a lovely, small evergreen that is slow growing and makes a great choice for a visible, shady spot near the front door or along a walkway. That ensures you won’t miss it as the flowers develop and open in late February or early March.
It eventually reaches several feet high and demands high planting so that the root ball is not sunk into the surrounding soil, where it can be highly susceptible to root rot and drop dead. By high planting, I mean to set only the bottom couple of inches of the root ball into the soil. Then add light soil to the root ball to cover it and top with mulch such as pine needles. This helps ensure the excellent soil drainage the plant demands.
A third producer of robust scent is wintersweet, which is an early-to-mid winter bloomer that makes a statement both with size and scent. The blooms of wintersweet, also known as Chimonanthus praecox, are yellow on the outside and purple on the inside and the shrub is a big one, rising 10 to 15 feet and maybe 8 feet wide in a sort of fountain shape. Most people would view it as a small tree, not a shrub. Though it is a space-grabber, wintersweet is worth it for its great winter interest. It is best planted in a back corner or against a two-story wall with plenty of blank space.
Also for winter, consider the witch hazel, which has been in American landscapes for more than a century and now has many modern hybrids in the marketplace with good fragrance. These include such popular ones as Jelena, with reddish-orange flowers; Arnold Promise, with large yellow ones; and Diane, with red blooms.
The flowers, which have a spidery shape, are among the most unusual. They, like the wintersweet, are good for cutting, and long branches in bloom make dramatic arrangements that bring the scent indoors.
Q. You often mention planting tulips, hyacinths and daffodils in large containers. But what about crocuses?
A. Crocuses make a lovely sight in a pot, perhaps combined with pansies or violas. The early winter crocuses are especially nice because each bulb produces several small blooms, which keeps the show going. But the single-flowered Dutch crocuses will also do well in pots.