Deliciously Fragrant Heirloom Flowers

Sweet alyssum plant with small clusters of white flowers

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Gardeners today are blessed with seemingly endless plant choices for their gardens. It's true, hundreds of new plants are introduced each year and many are just too tempting to resist. However, most modern plants have been bred for color, size, shape, or some form of resistance. With the exception of David Austin's delicious roses, the one attribute overlooked is fragrance.

Fragrance is one of the first features to come to mind when we think of flowers, yet it is often missing from gardens entirely. What would spring be without the enveloping perfume of lilacs? A rose just isn't a rose without scent and Sweet Autumn Clematis lets us know the season might be winding down, but the memory will linger.

One easy way to bring more fragrance back into your garden is with heirloom flowers, those old-fashioned open-pollinated plants that were garden staples for years. The term heirloom generally refers to plants that are at least 50 years old and the seed has been passed down from gardener to gardener. Some come with stories or a provenance, but many are just old standards.

These older flowers are often taller than modern hybrids and sometimes a bit messier in growth habit—perfect for a cottage garden. Since they are open-pollinated, most will reseed themselves throughout your borders and generally make themselves at home, without a lot of effort on your part.

Here are 12 fragrant bloomers to consider for your garden.

  • 01 of 13

    Chocolate Daisy (Berlandiera lyrata)

    Chocolate Daisy (Berlandiera lyrata)

    Puzzler4879 / Photopin

    What's not to like about a chocolate-scented flower? The bright yellow flowers will bloom year-round in frost-free areas. Even cool climate gardeners will get their fair share of color throughout the summer. If the plants start to look tired, you can shear them back by 1/3 and new buds will soon appear.

    Chocolate Daisy needs well-draining soil and may not survive the winter in cold climates with wet soil. But it grows quickly from seed and requires minimal care; just some shaping and watering during dry spells.

    Height: 18-24 inches
    Width: 15-18 inches
    Hardiness Zone: USDA zones 5-11
    Exposure: Full sun

  • 02 of 13

    Four O'Clock (Mirabilis jalapa)

    Four o'clock flowers
    Anna Yu / Getty Images

    The bright, cheerful flowers of Four O'Clocks often go unnoticed, because they don't open until late in the afternoon. However, once they do, you are treated to an orange-scented aroma that wafts through the air. Plant them near your outdoor seating area and bask in this wonderful scent. The flowers remain open until morning and will even bloom during the day if the weather is overcast.

    Plants can be started with either tubers or seeds. They can become a nuisance in warmer climates, but gardeners in cooler zones will need to either reseed every year or pot some up as houseplants, for the winter.

    Height: 1-4 ft.
    Width: 1-3 ft.
    Hardiness Zone: USDA zones 7-11
    Exposure: Full sun to partial shade

     More on Growing and Caring for Four O'Clocks

  • 03 of 13

    Giant Hyssop (Agastache rugosa)

    Giant Hyssop (Agastache rugosa)
    Rachel Husband / Getty Images

    These days there are many wonderful Hyssop cultivars to grow and experiment in your garden,  But the common Anise Hyssop ( Agastache foeniculum) and the Purple Giant Hyssop, being featured here, give you the strongest minty-licorice scent.  The fragrance is mainly in the leaves, but Purple Giant Hyssop is also a long-blooming perennial, with short, spiky lavender-purple flowers that start to bloom in midsummer and carry on to fall. You will have to share the flowers with the bees and pollinators, that find them irresistible.

    Giant Purple Hyssop is very adaptable and can even handle high humidity better than most hyssop varieties. It makes a nice cut flower and a delicious minty tea.

    Height: 1-3 ft.
    Width: 1-3 ft.
    Hardiness Zone: USDA zones 5-9
    Exposure: Full sun

  • 04 of 13

    Heliotrope (Heliotropium arborescens)

    Heliotrope (Heliotropium arborescens)
    Mark Turner / Getty Images

    To really enjoy the rich vanilla scent of Heliotrope, you need to plant a good size clump of it. You won't be sorry you did. The flower clusters come in purple and white and sit atop dense, deep, green foliage. The plants are not tall and make a nice front of the border plant, where you can really enjoy their fragrance.

    They got the name Heliotrope, because they follow the sun, shifting their flower heads as the sun moves across the sky, like sunflowers. Plant them in a sunny location, because the heat helps them release their fragrance. Much like Valerian, some people pick up a hint of cherry along with the vanilla scent, which gives heliotrope the common name "the cherry pie plant."

    Height: 18-24 inches
    Width: 12-15 inches
    Hardiness Zone: USDA zones 10-11
    Exposure: Full sun to partial shade

    Continue to 5 of 13 below.
  • 05 of 13

    Jasmine Tobacco ( Nicotiana alata)

    Jasmine tobacco plant with pink star-shaped tubular flowers

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    The Nicotiana family may be best known for tobacco, but several of the other species are much more pleasant to inhale. Jasmine tobacco has a fragrance that resembles—you guessed it—jasmine. The star-shaped, tubular flowers tend to open in the late afternoon. So many of the best fragrant plants bloom in the evening when we're home and relaxing. The flowers sit atop tall, nodding stems and seem to glow in the fading light.

    Jasmine tobacco doesn't usually start flowering until mid-summer, but then it goes until frost. Make sure you get plants labeled Nicotiana alata. There are many hybrid Nicotiana cultivars on sale today, but most have been bred for color or shape and no longer have any fragrance. What a pity.

    Height: 3-4 ft.
    Width: 15-18 inches
    Hardiness Zone: USDA zones 10-11
    Exposure: Full sun to partial shade

    More on Growing and Caring for Nicotiana

  • 06 of 13

    Moonflower (Ipomoea alba)

    Moonflower (Ipomoea alba)
    lowellgordon / Getty Images

    This vining morning glory cousin shines at the other end of the day. When morning glory is closing up, the moonflower is just getting ready to open. Moonflower can be a bit more difficult to grow from seed than morning glory. Let's face it, morning glory needs no outside assistance to thrive. It helps to scarify and pre-soak moonflower seed, before planting. You might even consider starting them in peat or paper pots and then transplanting them outdoors.

    Moonflower can also be variable when it comes to its fragrance. It is definitely strongest in the evening, so plant it by a seating area or open window. The scent is very soft, almost like baby powder, but quite lovely on a summer's breeze. And the clear white flowers almost glow in the dark, perfect for an evening garden.

    Height: 8-10 ft.
    Width: 12-15 inches
    Hardiness Zone: USDA zones 8-11 (usually grown as an annual)
    Exposure: Full sun

    More on Growing Moonflowers in Containers

  • 07 of 13

    Night Scented Stock (Matthiola longipetala bicornis)

    Night Scented Stock (Matthiola longipetala bicornis)
    Chris Burrows / Getty Images

    Stock flowers start the spring garden off with spicy, clove-scented flowers. It might not look like much during the day; in fact, it got the common name Melancholy Gillyflower because it tends to droop a bit in the daytime, but the flowers unfurl in the late afternoon and release a savory scent.

    Stock comes in pinks, lavenders, and almost white. This is a cool-season flower. Once temperatures start staying above 65 degrees F., the plants stop blooming and go to seed. Plant them in a spot protected from strong winds, so the fragrance won't dissipate.

    Height: 18-24 inches
    Width: 8-12 inches
    Hardiness Zone: Annual
    Exposure: Full sun to partial shade

  • 08 of 13

    Pinks (Dianthus species)

    Dianthus flowers with frilly circular pink petals in sunlight

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    There are many flowers in the Dianthus species. They are often all referred to as "Pinks," although the low-growing variety is considered the true pink if that matters. They all have some degree of sublime clove scent and the heirloom varieties are much more intense than newer introductions.

    The plants supposedly got their name because of the serrated "pinked" edges of the petals. While Pinks do not have to be pink, some of the best are, including 'Cheddar Pink', 'Cottage Pink,' and 'Maiden Pink.' Seed tends to be easier to find than plants.

    Pinks tend to have one flush of flowering, in late spring. They will rebloom sporadically if you deadhead after the initial blooms have faded.

    Height: 6-10 inches
    Width: 10-12 inches
    Hardiness Zone: USDA zones 3-10
    Exposure: Full sun

    More on Growing and Caring for Pinks

    Continue to 9 of 13 below.
  • 09 of 13

    Scented Geraniums (Pelargonium)

    Rose Scented Geranium
    Joshua McCullough / Getty Images

    As with the zonal geraniums we all love and grow, scented geraniums are not true geraniums at all. But that doesn't diminish them in the least. These plants are grown for their leaves, which come in a wide variety of fragrances from lemon, to rose, to apple, to chocolate. The flowers tend to be small and plain, but you won't miss them. Besides their ability to mimic so many yummy scents, the leaves can be lacy or lush and succulent.

    Scented geraniums are as easy to care for as zonal geraniums. They are also only hardy in the warmest zones. However they make excellent houseplants and it is very easy to propagate more, by cuttings.

    Height: 2-3 ft.
    Width: 1-3 ft.
    Hardiness Zone: USDA zones 10-11
    Exposure: Full sun to partial shade

    More on Growing and Caring for Scented Geraniums

  • 10 of 13

    Star Jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides)

    Star Jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides)
    Veena Nair / Getty Images

    Star, or Confederate, jasmine is not really a jasmine, although the scent could certainly fool you. It is an attractive vine with clusters of star-shaped, pure white flowers. You can train it to climb or just let it sprawl, as a groundcover.

    Star jasmine is not hardy below USDA Zone 7, but you can always pot it up and bring it indoors to enjoy. The plants take a while to really start growing, but luckily they will still bloom while they're young. Flowering is usually greatest in the spring, with smaller flushes sporadically in summer.

    Height: 15-20 ft. (Can be trimmed.)
    Width: 6-8 ft.
    Hardiness Zone: USDA zones 8-11
    Exposure: Full sun to partial shade

     More on Growing and Caring for Star Jasmine

  • 11 of 13

    Sweet Alyssum (Lobularia maritima)

    Sweet alyssum plants with clusters of small white flowers on side of pathway

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    Sweet alyssum has been bred into tight, low mounds, but that wasn't always the case. Old-fashioned alyssum certainly isn't tall, but it has a more blowsy habit that makes it fit right into a cottage garden, while still making an excellent edging plant. It will spill over and soften edges, while it releases its honey-scented fragrance. This is definitely more of a floral perfume fragrance than some of the citrus and mint-scented flowers discussed here. Plant it in mass, for the best effect.

    To be fair, there are some excellent hybrid Sweet alyssum varieties that have maintained their scent. However, there are also many that have sacrificed fragrance for color and form.

     Height: 4-6 inches
    Width: 6-9 inches
    Hardiness Zone: Annual
    Exposure: Full sun to partial shade

    More on Growing and Caring for Sweet Alyssum

  • 12 of 13

    Sweet Pea (Lathyrus odoratus)

    Sweet Peas (Lathyrus odoratus)

    Michael Boys / Corbis / VCG / Getty Images

    Climbing Sweet Peas are not edible, but they are beautiful and one of the most fragrant flowers you can grow. The flowers open like little butterflies and they come in a wide range of colors. Once again, it is the heirloom varieties that are most heavily scented. Be sure to check the seed packet before planting, because many modern hybrid sweet peas have no scent at all.

    These are clasping vines that grow best in cooler temperatures, although they will continue to bloom well into summer if given regular water. Sweet peas make wonderful cut flowers. Don't be shy about cutting them, since the more you cut, the more they flower.

    Height: 6-8 ft.
    Width: 6-12 inches
    Hardiness Zone: Annual
    Exposure: Full sun to partial shade

    More on Growing and Caring for Sweet Peas

    Continue to 13 of 13 below.
  • 13 of 13

    Valerian (Valeriana officinalis)

    Valerian (Valeriana officinalis)
    Westend61 / Getty Images

    So many scented flowers remind us of our favorite foods. Valerian gives off a scrumptious cherry-vanilla scent that is strongest in the evening air. The fragrance is best appreciated at a distance, once it's had time to blend with the breeze. Its strong hint of vanilla gives it the common name of 'garden heliotrope.'

    The flower heads are clusters of small, tubular flowers held up high on hollow, but sturdy stems. The plants are spread by rhizomes, but do not generally get out of control. Besides, a large mass of Valerian is the best way to enjoy it.

    Height: 18-24 inches
    Width: 2-3 ft.
    Hardiness Zone: USDA zones 4-9
    Exposure: Full sun to partial shade