Top Ten Scented Winter Garden Plants

 In Hardy perennials, Scented plants, Trees and Shrubs, Winter colour

Many of my top ten scented winter garden plants are mostly shrubs. But if you read on you’ll see that they are not all woody plants.

What they all have in common is that they are remarkably tough and easy to grow plants.

Few of these have really showy flowers. What they lack with individual impact they more than make up for by having masses of blooms!

Sweet scent is a feature of many winter flowering garden plants.

Most scented winter garden plants rely on insects for pollination. Scent is the main means of attracting those insects to their blooms.



Daphne bholua must be top of my list!

Unlike many other daphnes this one is easy to grow.

Its adaphne flowers tall shrub [2-3 m], often retaining its leaves right through winter.

In the wild it grows in the Himalayas below the snow line.

Consequently it is a very hardy plant.

I’ve seen it growing in Sikkim at between 12 and 14,000 feet. Here it grows along side bamboo and holly and under the canopy of giant tree Magnolia and firs.

I have a couple in my garden and the pink buds will soon be opening to reveal pale pink to white flowers.

These blooms release the sweetest heavenly scent of perhaps any plant!

Unfortunately, like so many other Daphne, this is a tricky plant to propagate and get going in the nursery.

You may struggle to find plants to buy and when you are fortunate enough to find one don’t be put off by the relatively high price since this is a real winter star!




Viburnum x bodnantense

Pink Viburnum bloom

Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’

This is very much easier to buy!

But it’s is also a tall upright growing hardy shrub.

The flowers on this Viburnum are also pink and release a powerful scent.

Blooms start to appear even before the leaves fall in autumn. But they will continue to be produced right through winter to early spring.

It is a good choice for a garden with heavy soil and will also grow in gardens with lighter soil.

Due to its size [3-3.5 m] it should be planted at the back of a border.

You could also plant this one as a screening plant.

During summer it won’t catch your eye and verges on dull. Nevertheless its large size makes it a perfect host for a Clematis viticella variety to scramble over?

Before the Viburnum starts to bloom you can prune this type of Clematis hard back. This is because this type flowers best on new wood.



Coronilla glauca ‘Citrina’

Coronilla glauca Citrina

Coronilla glauca Citrina

Lest you think that this list is going to be only filled with shrubs, I now nominate Coronilla glauca ‘Citrina’.

This is not a true climber, more a wall shrub and it will benefit from some support.

Few plants, scented or not, can be said to produce a flower in every week of the year but this one certainly can!

The pea-like pale yellow flowers [it is a member of the pea family] are held above the bluish green leaves and each has sweet subtle scent.

Coronilla does well on poorer well drained soils in full sun.

This is not a long lived plant so be prepared to replace it with another after about 5-10 years.

This long flowering plant is worth every penny!



Sarcococca confusa

Sarcococca, Christmas box

Christmas Box [Sarcococca confusa]

Number four on my list is a box-like plant called Sarcococca confusa.

For some the scent from this one is too strong and overpowering.

But planted discretely and not en masse, I find it a very useful evergreen shrub.

It sits neatly under and in the shade of some of the bigger trees and shrubs.

Whilst perhaps not really a ground cover plant it is a waist high weed smotherer.

I find that it’s useful in that it will withstand clipping.

Sarcococca might even be a good substitute for the box blight prone true box tree [Buxus].

Masses of tiny petal-less flowers are produced from late December through till late February.

I’ve observed that these are often followed by shiny black berries.

Sarcococca do well on soils with a high pH and high lime content. But they also grow on ordinary soil well.


Sweet Violets

violets, viola odorata,

Sweet violets [Viola odorata]

No list would be complete without my next true ground covering contender.

But before you rush on to the next thinking that ground cover low maintenance plants are all boring, this is a violet! Incidentally I’ve written about good ground covering plants here.

Viola odorata is an old favourite and was locally an important commercial crop for posies to be sent to London and for the scent trade.

I imagine that old varieties of this one can still be found in old undisturbed North Somerset hedgerows. These once surrounded small fields in which these lovely plants grew in their hundreds.

Find a cool moist shady spot for this little violet and watch it slowly spread.

It will provide you with the most dainty of bunches to bring into the house in January.

My headline image is of a whole bed of sweet scented violets at The Newt in Somerset.


Shrubby Honeysuckle

Winter honeysuckle, shrub in front of house

Lonicera x purpusii Winter Beauty

The shrubby honeysuckle Lonicera x purpusii ‘Winter Beauty’ looks very ordinary during summer when in leaf.

This another contender to brighten up with a well chosen Clematis. I suggest a C. texensis variety this time.

But as soon as mid-winter arrives the honeysuckle starts to produce masses of tiny little classic honeysuckle shaped blooms.

These blooms kick out that classic heavy honeysuckle scent!

This is a large shrub of 2.5 m high but perhaps 3.5 m wide so un-pruned it needs lots of space.

But pruned immediately after blooming in early spring it can be kept considerably smaller without loss of flowers.

Any reasonable soil, provided that it is not poorly drained, will suit this one.

It will also grow in part shade.



Witch hazel

witch hazel flowers, hamamelis

Hamamelis mollis

Witch hazels [Hamamelis] have beautiful fragrant winter blooms.

The tiny strap-like flower petals on the winter flowers will unfurl on warmer winter days and it is then that their strong scent is released.

Most have blooms that are shades of yellow, red or orange.

They too can be pruned remarkably hard after blooming.

But if they are not pruned then they grow to 3-4 m high and as wide too!

Many books say that they must have lime free soil but I find that, given good depth of soil, this is untrue.

Most are grafted onto a rootstock that is the source of a vital ingredient of Optrex eye care.

Many have very fine autumn leaf colour before leaf fall.




Some daffodils have really strong sweet scent but few flower in winter.

Dutchgrown bulbs trial

Pure white Paperwhite with yellow centred Avalanche

However one that we can grow inside will flower throughout winter if bulbs are potted up and forced into flower in succession.

This is the old Paperwhite Narcissus

NB. [Paperwhite is not hardy enough to reliably survive outside]

Narcissus Paperwhite is good but I think is bettered by the stronger growing Avalanche variety.

Everything that the plant needs is packed into the bulb when you buy it.  And so it can even be grown in a watered pot of gravel!

I find that Avalanche is a good variety to grow in a cold north facing porch.



Winter Sweet

Winter Sweet, Chimonanthus

Sweet scented Chimonanthus

Winter Sweet [Chimonanthus praecox] can take a few years to mature.

But when it does start to bloom it has a intoxicating scent!

The tiny elf’s cap like flowers are pale yellow and not especially showy. But they scent that they send out will grab your attention!

A few sprigs of this if brought inside will scent a whole room.

Grafted selected forms will flower earlier in their life and can occasionally be bought.

Semi-mature plants can sometimes be found too but otherwise this is a shrub that requires patience.

Just like the Sarcococca, Viburnum and honeysuckle this is very lime tolerant.




My top ten scented winter garden plants list has few evergreens. But the last is a great tough evergreen which demands little of the gardener.

Mahonia japonica blooms in the second half of winter.

The flowers spill out of the top of each shoot as 15 cm long strings of pale yellow bells.

The scent that they produce is oh so close to that of lily of the valley. If you are blindfolded you might mistake one for the other!

This shrub is very shade tolerant [as are most Mahonia] but will grow in full sun if there is enough moisture and rich soil too.

It’s broader growing than high so allow 2 m between plants. And expect plants to reach about 1. 75 m high.

I must also recommend Mahonia in the garden to support bees. Bumblebees adore them!




So that’s my pick of the pops, my top ten scented garden plants.

With some of these planted in your garden you will be enticed to venture outside on even the dullest day!

All but the Narcissus bulbs can be planted in mid winter and when in flower too!

Just avoid frozen soils and those that are really wet.

What scented winter garden plants do you have in your garden?

Which are your favourites and which ones have I missed out?


Further topical reading

Snowdrops have a delicate scent. I’ve written about a garden local to me that grows many different varieties. Read more here.

Although not especially noted for scent Camellia plants flower during winter. I’ve a few important tips on growing these lovely evergreen shrubs right here.

And here I’ve written about great winter flowering shrubs.

Winter flowering heathers provide fantastic winter colour in the garden! Check out my thoughts on these great low maintenance plants right here.


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