Fragrance is an often-overlooked element in garden design. Sweet, spicy or citrus scents can waft over an entire property, following the slightest breeze. Summertime heat and humidity enhances a plant's fragrance, and as a result, some people can find the intoxicating scent of some flowering shrubs overpowering. For those people, consider planting them away from bedroom windows. Certain shrubs possessing the strongest and most reliable perfume grow in cold winter areas of North America as well as in more temperate climates.
Any older home in the Northeast or Midwest likely features a mature lilac (Syringa vulgaris) shrub in the backyard. Classic lilac fragrance is strong and distinctive and appears in perfumes and scented soaps. Lilacs are deciduous shrubs that can reach 20 ft. in height. Common lilac, or Syringa vulgaris, has heart-shaped leaves and large clusters of purple, pink white or yellow flowers in spring. Common lilacs need full sunshine and moderate amounts of water through the growing season. These prefer alkaline soils and need a cold winter chill to ensure spring bloom. The shrubs do not need pruning, but pinching off dried flowers above bud formations helps shape the plant. Warm winter tolerant varieties, such as the Descanso hybrids, flower in the inland foothill communities of Southern California. There are other less well-known lilac varieties, such as Persian lilacs (Syringa persica) and Chinese lilacs (Syringa chinesis) that have fragrant flowers and need warm winters and hot summers. Lilac flowers last a long time when cut just as the buds begin to open. Mist the blooms occasionally with water to enhance lilac flowers' fragrance in cut arrangements.
Gardenia plants are tender shrubs that need well draining rich soil and ample water. Rubiaceae jasminoides, also known as the corsage gardenia, is native to China. It's waxy, white and the blooms my enchant some, but overpower others with the heady sweet scent they emit. The flowers appear in summer atop deep green lustrous foliage. Most shrubs grow up to 3 feet tall and need some shade protection, good drainage and moist conditions to thrive. Jasminoides gardenia suffers when salts accumulate in the soil--occasional deep soaking with mineral-free water helps leach excess salt away from the root system. Although it survives temperatures as low as 30 Fahrenheit, the plant will not bloom well without high summer heat.
Heritage roses, also called old roses, are Rosaceae shrubs that predate the repeat-blooming roses introduced at the end of the 18th century. These flowers possess the rich fragrance that modern roses cannot match. Unlike modern tea roses, old roses have shrubby growth and flexible, sometimes thorn-free branches. The fragrance rarely overpowers and manages to remain delicate. Persians cultivated damask roses for centuries before crusaders brought them to Europe in the 1200's. Damask rose Ispahan has a long blooming period and pink, cup-shaped and richly fragrant blooms. Kazanlik has smaller flowers but an intense fragrance used for attar of roses, or rose oil, in Bulgaria and the Middle East.Heritage shrub-type roses need full sun and rich soil. These blend well in perennial beds, and look attractive out of bloom. People know the centifolia rose as the cabbage rose. Centifolia's pink flower is very full, and has the strong scent of myrrh and spice. The often-painted rose lends it name to the centifolia grouping of roses, which all have intense fragrance.