Norman Winter is Executive Director of The National Butterfly Center and author of the highly acclaimed Tough-as-Nails Flowers for the South and Captivating Combinations: Color and Style in the Garden.

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Fragrant Gardens
by Norman Winter       #Fragrant   #Flowers

Though not the most magnificent plant in the garden, night jasmine offers a very strong, pleasing aroma. (Photo by Cary Bass.)

I was walking on a Caribbean beach one evening heading toward a favorite spot for jerked chicken when I was captured by the fragrance of a large, blooming shrub. Now if I were relegated to growing only one plant for the rest of my life, it would be that plant, the night-blooming jasmine (Cestrum nocturnum).

It’s funny how we can fall under the spell of a smell. For me it was the night jasmine, for others it is a gardenia or perhaps an old garden rose. Once we start growing plants for the enjoyable fragrance, our garden becomes not only a visual panorama but also a garden of participation. Here the gardener and visitor alike are encouraged to bend and smell or even touch.

These gardens become like recording studios, making imprints on our children and grandchildren’s memories of what life was like at that particular time, what Mom and Dad or the grandparents were like. I know without a doubt my children will want to grow the night jasmine, and when it blooms they will think about how it was out by the pool when they were young, or how it got hammered by the tornado but survived, just as the family huddled in the closet did.


Tropical Fragrance
The night jasmine is in the family with tomatoes, of all things, and is not much to look at, but one 4-foot tall plant can send its evening perfume throughout the neighborhood.

For a true jasmine and a tropical mind, make the Arabian or sambac jasmine your first choice. This climbing evergreen is known botanically as Jasminum sambac and offers glistening white flowers so enticingly fragrant, you can pick up the old ones that have fallen and place in a potpourri dish to enjoy indoors for several days. One thing that I really appreciate about it is that it seems to always have some flowers.

In the Southern United States, gardenias are often planted as specimens. Investigate different varieties to find the one that’s suitable for the size of your garden.

The Cape jasmine, known to us as a gardenia, fits the tropical style garden and offers an intoxicating fragrance that can bring us to our knees. One picked blossom can give hours of enjoyment in your home or car. Visiting your garden center while gardenias are in bloom is like going to a bakery just as the loaves of bread come out of the oven. Not even my treasured night jasmine can compete with the fragrance of the gardenia. It is curious to note that gardenias are in the same family as coffee and a gorgeous container flower called ixora.

In the Southern United States, the most popular use of the gardenia is as a freestanding specimen. Another great and much overlooked use is as part of an informal border combined with azaleas or other evergreen shrubs such as hollies. Gardenias are also great in large containers on a patio or deck.

Many gardeners don’t realize that we have a variety of choices. The most popular may be ‘August Beauty’, which reaches a height of 4 to 6 feet. I am kind of partial to one called ‘Mystery’, which may reach 8 feet. Both ‘Mystery’ and ‘August Beauty’ repeat bloom off and on through fall.

If you want shorter plants, you have a couple of options. One called ‘Veitchii’ reaches about three feet, and ‘Radicans’, a dwarf variety, reaches only 2 feet tall. ‘Radicans’ looks different with pointed leaves and smaller but just as fragrant flowers. They make a nice border similar to dwarf yaupon. ‘Radicans’ is more sensitive to cold damage. Look also for ‘Daisy’, which is shorter in stature but is skyrocketing in popularity. 


Cashmere bouquet (Clerodendrum bungei) has a delightfully sweet fragrance. (Photo by Norman Winter)

Sweet Fragrance
Fragrance that entices you to stay, draws swallowtail butterflies by the dozens, and has flowers of rare, exotic beauty, are all traits of a group of plants known as clerodendrums, or clerodendrons.

The most common in the South is the Clerodendrum bungei, or cashmere bouquet. You see them in many gardens with huge bouquets of rose-pink flowers that have a delightfully sweet fragrance. Butterflies find these flowers a treat. I have also seen the flower clusters used to give special touches in floral arrangements. The foliage also has a striking bronze-purple cast mixed with the dark green. Some consider the foliage as having a bad odor when touched, but I don’t think it’s that bad.

The cashmere bouquet is native to Mexico and South America and is hardy throughout Zone 7. Depending on your outlook, there is a warning to go along with the cashmere bouquet and many of the other clerodendrums: They are aggressive about spreading, so you will soon have a forest of clerodendrums if you do not remove volunteers.


Glorybower (Clerodendrum trichotomum) grows into a small tree. Hummingbirds frequent it. (Photo by Norman Winter)

Heirloom Fragrance
The most prolific fragrance may come from Clerodendrum trichotomum, or glorybower. Whereas the cashmere bouquet develops into a shrub-like habit, the glorybower develops into a small tree. The fragrance of its white and rosy-red flowers permeates the air in the area it is growing, and I relish the time it is in bloom. Sometimes I have seen more swallowtails than I could count. Hummingbirds also love to feast on the sweet nectar.

This clerodendrum is special in that after the bloom you have a steel blue fruit in the middle of the red calyx that remains attractive for a long period of time. This native of Japan is hardy in Zone 7 as well. For the part-shade garden, don’t forget about gingers such as the butterfly ginger (Hedychium coronarium), and kahili ginger (Hedychium gardnerianum).

The first fragrant plant many Southerners were exposed to is the four o’clock. The red, yellow, white or multi-colored flowers open at 4 p.m., give or take an hour. The blossoms emit a tantalizing fragrance that makes family and friends want to sit on the porch and talk awhile. This performance lasts almost all night and runs from summer through fall.

The four o’clock is known botanically as Mirabilis jalapa, and is also known as beauty of the night and marvel of Peru. Though it is native to Peru, you will swear it has the South in its genes by the way it takes to our climate. It will reseed and form underground tubers too. Tubers have been known to weigh 40 pounds in native areas. This prolific nature makes it slightly aggressive, and it needs to be managed.

The leaf texture and tubular flower form allow it to fit into the tropical landscape as easily as the cottage garden. Grow in front of bananas or upright elephant ears and use in combination with hibiscus or allamandas in the tropical garden. In the cottage garden, grow four o’clocks with other drought-tolerant plants such as lantana, melampodium and ‘Goldsturm’ rudbeckia. If growing in morning sun and afternoon shade, one of the best companions is the summer phlox. The most important consideration is to place the four o’clock close to the porch, patio or deck so the family can enjoy its enticing fragrance.

Fragrant four o’clocks come in a variety of colors. (Photo by Norman Winter)

Rose, “The Queen” Scent
If, however, you asked someone to name a fragrant flower, everyone knows the answer – the rose. Some gardeners believe roses have lost their fragrance, but I have stuck my nose in more than a few that deliver delightful scents for season-long enjoyment.

’Double Delight’ is a very popular hybrid tea rose. Gardeners often choose it for it bold blooms and strong fragrance.

The David Austin ‘Fisherman’s Friend’ is a very fragrant red rose. (Photo by Norman Winter)

David Austin ‘Tamorra’ offers tight, cabbagelike blooms. (Photo by Norman Winter)

‘Mister Lincoln’ is a rich red hybrid tea.

‘Double Delight’ has been one of the most popular hybrid tea roses for almost 30 years. An outstanding rose with a creamy white color contrasting with bright strawberry red, it has a fresh fruity scent you can smell up to 10 feet away. In 1986, the American Rose Society awarded it as the most fragrant.

‘Double Delight’ blooms freely, plentifully and vigorously throughout the season, has excellent flower form and attractive foliage. It won the All-America Rose Selection award in 1977.

‘French Perfume’ is another intensely fragrant hybrid tea that is also bi-colored. It has ruffled petals that unfold with a yellow and pink center, but as it matures, the outer petals turn a blush ruby and cream. The tantalizing aroma is fruity.

Many consider ‘Mister Lincoln’ the best red hybrid tea of all time. I was at a large rose show a couple of years ago and the contestants were in shock as the old ‘Mister Lincoln’ took top honors. It wasn’t a question of the quality of the rose, but usually newer roses take the award. The blooms are a velvety red color with a wonderful fragrance.          

There are some wonderfully fragrant floribundas worthy of a spot in your yard. I haven’t been a fan of lavender roses in the past, but ‘Love Potion’ has captured my heart. It is probably the most fragrant floribunda. Buds start out deep purple then open to lavender. They literally radiate a fabulous raspberry scent.

A recent All-America Winner, ‘Scentimental’ is strongly fragrant. It is also strongly striped. The rose is fire engine red laced with creamy white. You probably will either adore it or hate it. ‘Scentimental’ is the first striped rose to win the All-America honors. The strawberry parfait-looking blossoms have a strong, spicy fragrance you are sure to love.

The David Austin English roses claim the most fragrant award in my book. My favorite has been ‘Abraham Darby’, a pink-peach, apricot blend. It is a huge bush loaded with old cabbage-looking roses so fragrant you have to stop for a closer examination.

‘Evelyn’ is a very fragrant rose fairly new to the United States. It has apricot-pink blossoms that form a perfect cup reminiscent of the old garden roses. It grows only about 3.5 to 4 feet in height and has blossoms about 4 inches across. If you want a red, fragrant David Austin rose, try ‘Fisherman’s Friend’.

Antique rose lovers will tell you that the best fragrance lies in this category. Among the favorites are the bourbons, which resulted from a cross of ‘Old Blush’ and ‘Autumn Damask’.

Today there are more than 40 bourbons still on the market. These are highly fragrant and are cupped or quartered. One of the most prized bourbon roses is the ‘Zephirine Drouhin’ from 1868. This rose has gorgeous rose-pink flowers on thornless stems. It is very fragrant and moderately disease resistant.

My favorite fragrant bourbon is ‘Madame Issac Pereire’. It is very vigorous and can be trained as a climber. The rose has gorgeous rose-purple flowers and an almost intoxicating fragrance.

So as you can see, no matter your style of garden – tropical, cottage or rose – fragrance can play a vital role in enjoyment and lasting memories for your loved ones.



(From State-by-State Gardening April 2004.)


Posted: 04/20/11   RSS | Print


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TheGardenLane - 04/22/2011

Oh, but you left out two of my favorites for the Alabama garden. The Osmanthus Fragrans (Sweet Olive) grows to a large shrub that isn’t much to look at, but beginning in the fall and throughout the winter and into spring it blooms with tiny white clusters of drooping flowers that have a heavenly fragrance that smells just like sweet tea, ergo the common name of Sweet Tea Olive.

And then there’s the incredibly delicious fragrance of the Eleagnus Fragrans, a shrub that reaches 10 feet or more with a fountain shape if left unpruned and again, the shrub itself is rather nondescript, but beginning also in fall and throughout the winter into spring the long, arching branches are studded with tiny, bell-shaped hairy white blooms that give off a devastating aroma that can drift across the evening air and is so powerful that I can often pick up the scent from the other end of my 2 acres.

These are two must-haves for the southern fragrance garden, they are low maintenance shrubs that will scent an entire yard from fall to spring.

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autmom - 04/28/2011

Oh how sweet it is!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  Thanks for the great information.  I’ve printed the page and plan to go shopping.

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