Fragrant Fall Favorites

The fragrant white flowers of glossy abelia have bright pink sepals in fall and winter. Photo credit; Taken at Wisley Gardens by

Many of you enjoyed last week’s post on the katsura tree, loving its caramel apple scent as much as I do. Did you know that there are also several shrubs and perennials which spice up the fall garden with their fragrance too?

Glossy abelia (Abelia x grandiflora) is a somewhat sprawling shrub with tubular white pink flowers along its arching stems all summer and fall. It is evergreen in many areas, but does lose a proportion of its glossy green leaves here in the colder parts of Seattle, although not before they gain a wonderful rosy glow. Adored by hummingbirds, I like to use this as an informal hedge or screen. For the tidier minded gardener abelia can be sheared for size and shape, but I can’t help feeling that if God had intended it to have a poodle or pompom cut He would have created it that way. Just saying. Plant it in full sun or light shade – and put the shears away so it can spread to 5’ tall and wide. Hardy in zones 6-9.

Dianthus 'Firewitch' may be small in size but BIG in fragrance. Photo credit; Missouri Botanical Garden

Cheddar pinks (Dianthus sp.) –how can something so small smell so powerful? While there are many different Dianthus available, it is the low growing rockery group which readily come to mind when I think about reliable fall flowers and fragrance. In fact ‘Firewitch’ seems to have flowers for at least 7 months of the year in my garden! While each hot pink flower may be petite there is nothing subtle about its spicy perfume. Use it in containers or at the front of a garden border in full sun and well-drained soil. Hardy in zones 3-9.

Sweet autumn clematis may be a thug, but it is a beautiful and fragrant thug at least. Photo credit; Wikimedia Commons

Sweet autumn clematis (Clematis ternifolia) – love it or hate it, the sweet autumn clematis lives up to its name. Whether you consider it vigorous or invasive, there’s no denying that this delightful vine has considerable potential to swallow an arbor but if you’re up for the challenge then you will be rewarded with weeks of starry white flowers exuding a sweet vanilla scent. Plant on a sturdy structure in full sun and well-drained soil – then get out of the way! Hardy in zones 4-10 it will grow 20’ in a single season.

A contemporary white, yellow and black scheme with daphne 'Eternal Fragrance' as the star. It is partnered with 'Delta Dawn' coral bells, black mondo grass and white 'bud bloomer' heather which echoes the color of the daphne's flowers

Daphne ‘Eternal Fragrance’ (Daphne transatlantica ‘Eternal Fragrance’)– When someone mentions ‘daphne’ I immediately think of winter daphne (Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’) with its 3” long elliptical green leaves edged in creamy yellow and an intoxicating perfume that fills the February air. This week I was looking for the perfect fragrant plant for a container and came across ‘Eternal Fragrance’ daphne. It has smaller green leaves than the winter daphne and although its main flowering period is in spring it blooms reliably through fall. Certainly the one I found was a mass of buds – the promise of many heady weeks to come! Try it as a centerpiece in a container which receives afternoon shade and place it near a door or window to enjoy the fall fragrance. Hardy in zones 6-9 but may be deciduous below 0’F.

The unassuming fragrant olive has an unforgettable perfume. Photo credit; Monrovia

Fragrant tea tree, Fragrant olive or Tea olive (Osmanthus fragrans) – my blogging friend Deb Elliott wrote recently about this large evergreen shrub and its apricot-like fragrance. Take a side trip to Deb's Garden and see what she enjoys most about this fall beauty and how it can be incorporated into your own garden.

At this time of year those of us who live in colder climates begin our gardening hibernation  – enjoying our garden through the windows rather than from the patio. I challenge you to pull out a sweater and take a sensory walk around your garden. Do you still have herbs and vegetables to taste? Are there wispy grasses to run your fingers through? Are the birds flitting in and out of your bushes enjoying the berry and seed head buffet? Stand still, close your eyes and breathe deeply. What scents drift across the autumnal air to tease you?  If there is little to note then consider the katsura tree I introduced you to last week or select one of the plants featured here.

Whether you have acreage or just a container garden there is always room for fragrance in fall.

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  1. Sandi on October 16, 2012 at 5:18 am

    Your photos are beautiful. I love the contemporary black, white and yellow pairing, although the only one that would do well for me is the heuchera. I agree with you calling the sweet autumn clematis a thug, but it's one I couldn't be without. Lovely post.

    • Karen Chapman on October 16, 2012 at 8:27 pm

      Thank you Sandi.

  2. Jennifer on October 19, 2012 at 7:37 am

    Sadly, the Glossy abelia (Abelia x grandiflora) and Fragrant Tea tree would not be hardy here in my garden ( although the way the climate is changing that may not always be true!). I do have Dianthus 'Firewitch', Love that spicy fragrance. Thug or no, I have been on the lookout for a Sweet Autumn Clematis for a while. It's definitely on my wish list.

    • Karen Chapman on October 19, 2012 at 3:29 pm

      Just stand well back after you plant it! It is beautifully fragrant though