The Fragrant Garden
Roses and Companion Plants To Perfume The Air

By Steve Jones
Master Rosarian

Most of us probably started growing roses with one thing in mind: to fill our gardens with fragrance. I was one of those people. But then after buying several fragrant roses that had disease problems, I soon concentrated on roses that were disease resistant, various colors, and then more recently, exhibition varieties, many of which do not have fragrance. However, I still grow a few roses just for garden color, blooms, and fragrance.

There are some roses that are very fragrant, and you can fill a yard with fairly disease-resistant varieties and enjoy their fragrance, especially on those calm, still mornings. Roses come in a variety of fragrances from the old damask rose scent to very sweet.


A majority of the once-blooming old garden roses (antique roses) such as gallicas, damasks, centifolias, mosses, and albas are very fragrant. They generally have an old rose or damask scent. Several members of these classes were used for producing rose attar, or rose oil. Examples are the damask Kazanlik and the alba Alba semi-plena. They are also useful in making potpourri. One of my favorite very fragrant once blooming roses is the light pink damask Celsiana.

Not all of the repeat-blooming old garden roses are fragrant. However, most of the fragrant rose varieties belong to the bourbon and hybrid perpetual classes. Some very strong, old rose fragrances are found in Georg Arends, Baronne Prevost, Paul Neyron, Anna de Diesbach, Mrs. John Laing, Urdh, Yolande d'Aragon, and the sweeter fragrances are found in Zephirine Drouhin and Madame Isaac Pereire, the latter of which is probably one of the most fragrant roses. There are some other highly fragrant old garden roses including Francis Dubreuil, Sophie's Perpetual, and Stanwell Perpetual. Most of these roses have little to slight disease problems.


It is often said that modern roses have lost their fragrance. This is not true, but fragrance in roses is not a dominant trait. Harry Wheatcroft once wrote that only 10% of his seedlings had any appreciable fragrance. There are several excellent fragrant modern roses with little disease problems. In the hybrid teas, the light pink New Zealand is at the top of my list: good fragrance, strong growing plant, and blooms with good exhibition form, although I have yet to see it win a medal at a show. The lavender/gray Stainless Steel has strong fragrance and good exhibition form as does the AARS winner Secret. For decorative blooms, the deep pink Yves Piaget and the purplish Stephen's Big Purple are very fragrant. There are a large number of hybrid teas with slight disease problems, but which can be easily controlled, including: Electron, Fragrant Cloud, Fragrant Memory (Jadis), Just Joey, Perfume Delight, Mister Lincoln, Mirandy, Sheer Bliss, Dolly Parton, Double Delight, and Ain't She Sweet.

There are several very clean floribundas with good fragrance including Sheila's Perfume, Sunsprite, Amber Queen, City of London, Blueberry Hill, Iceberg, Intrigue, and Scentimental. There are some excellent, clean and fragrant climbers including the seemingly everblooming Berries 'n' Cream, America (which can get some mildew), Autumn Sunset, Don Juan, Royal Sunset, and New Dawn.


For those small spots, there are several clean and fragrant miniature roses including Admirable, My Sunshine, Scentsational, Seattle Scentsation, and Turlock Hi. Sweet Chariot is awesome in a hanging basket and has super fragrant, purple blooms. Shrubs are among the most versatile and fragrant roses. A majority of the hybrid rugosas are very fragrant such as Roseraie de l'Hay, Rugosa Magnifica, Hansa, and Jen's Munk to name a few. Rugosas are often called "bee bushes" as they attract a lot of insects including bees. Several of the hybrid musks have a strong to medium multiflora fragrance, often mistaken for musk, including Buff Beauty and Pax. The David Austin English Roses, Rosa soulieana, and the 1956 floribunda, Moonsprite, are known for their strong myrrh fragrance, often described as baby powder. Evelyn, Gertrude Jekyll, and Tradescant are some of the more fragrant Austins. Several of the Buck Roses have good fragrance including Carefree Beauty, Prairie Star, and Applejack which also has apple scented foliage. Of course, the Sweet Briars are well known for their apple scented foliage. Did you know that roses are relatives of apples, hence the apple-scented foliage?

If you want additional fragrance in your garden, select some of the fragrant companion plants and trees listed below. 


Nothing beats the early spring when the citrus trees are in full bloom and fill the air with their sweet perfume. Unfortunately, citrus will rarely produce good fruit in our valley due to freezes, but will do well closer to Ventura and in the San Fernando Valley. 


My Sweet Olive (Osmanthus fragrans) is currently filling the evening air with a strong fragrance from very minute flowers. It can also be pruned to form a hedge, screen, espalier, or even a container plant. 

Mock Orange (Pittosporum tobira) blooms emit an orange scent, hence its name. Mock Oranges come in various sizes, shapes, and foliage colors, and can be used as shrubs or a hedge. 

One of my favorite fragrant plants from my childhood is Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow (Brunfelsia pauciflora 'floribunda') with its intensely fragrant blooms that change color as they age, from a deep purple to white in three days.


The bright blue fragrant blooms and the dark shiny foliage makes Ceanothus (lilac) a versatile plant. It is also fire retardant, so it is perfect for local fire hazard areas. 

Night Blooming Tobacco (Nicotiana) has long tube like super fragrant flowers, however, all parts of the plant are poisonous, so be careful around kids and pets. It grows to about five feet.

Gardenias are best grown in pots since they like a slightly acid soil and our heat will fry them so it is best to grow them in the shade. Try a few on your patio and let them fill the area with their sweet perfume.


There are two popular jasmines that do well in our valley, and both have intense fragrance. Star Jasmine (Trachelospermum) and Pink Jasmine (Jasmine polyanthum) will grow to 20 feet and will perfume the whole block. They can be used as climbers or ground cover.

Honeysuckles are also very fragrant, but several varieties are very evasive, such as Hall's. I would consult with your nurseryman and see if they have any less evasive plants. Honeysuckle can also get huge and take over your yard, and may not be hardy in the Palmdale/Lancaster area.

Nasturtium and Sweet Peas are two other fragrant vines that come in various colors. Both climb to about six feet tall. 


For front borders, the spring blooming bulbs Freesia and Narcissus have very fragrant blooms, and you cannot miss their fragrance as you walk by. Tuberose (Polianthes) have powerfully fragrant white tubular blooms with grass-like foliage and grow to about one foot tall. Hyacinths are about a foot tall and come in various colors. Naked Lady (Amaryllis belladonna) blooms in late summer with pink trumpet shaped blooms. The plants are about three feet tall and the foliage disappears in the spring, only to return in the summer and fall. Casablanca is a white Oriental Lily with huge white flowers about seven inches in diameter. This is a plant for the middle or back of the border since it grows to about five feet. Some Daylilies are also fragrant, and bloom during the summer and have good repeat. Most grow to one or two feet.

Sweet Alyssum (Lobularia maritima) has intensely fragrant small blooms and grows to about six inches high. It is used for carpeting, edging and is a good bulb cover. It is available in white, pink and purple. It also readily reseeds. 

Chocolate Cosmos has deep reddish-brown, two-inch wide flowers that smell like chocolate. This late summer blooming perennial grows to about two feet.


Santolina, a drought-tolerant plant, comes in quite a few varieties, primarily Santolina chamaecyparissus (gray foliage) and Santolina rosmarinifolius (green foliage). Both are very dense with finely cut-foliage that forms little round mounds. The gray Santolina looks best when kept to one foot high. It will spread to about two feet. The green Santolina is faster growing than the gray and it will grow to about two feet high and three feet wide. From a distance, it looks like puffs of green smoke. As an added bonus, both Santolinas have yellow button shaped blooms in early summer. 

Artemesia is a great filler in-between roses. Most artemesias have beautiful fragrant silver foliage. The most popular variety is Powis Castle which grows to three feet tall and about six feet wide. It does not have any flowers. But it is one of those few plants that look great all year round.

Scented geraniums (Pelar-goniums) come in all sizes and shapes, and are wonderful plants to weave their way through roses. Some scented geraniums will grow to four feet, others to one or two feet. As an added bonus, many will bloom for three to four months in the spring. The perfect complement for the first bloom of your roses! They come in all types of fragrances including orange, peppermint, apple, citrus, coconut, lime, chocolate mint, pineapple, ginger, strawberry, mint, cinnamon, almond, lemon, apricot, and yes, rose, to name a few. Scented geraniums are hardy in the San Fernando Valley. They may need winter protection in the Santa Clarita Valley and definitely in the Palmdale/Lancaster area.


If you enjoy fragrant foliage, nothing beats herbs. They also have an added advantage: you can use them in your cooking. Herbs come in all sizes and shapes. Find one to fit your needs from those below.

Fennel (green and bronze varieties), basil, dill, thyme, lemon grass, lemon verbena, catnip, sage (Salvia officinalis) and other sages especially Salvia clevelandii (which also has beautiful deep blue flowers) and Salvia apiana (gorgeous silver foliage) have very fragrant foliage. 

Mints are wonderfully fragrant. But whatever you do, plant mint in pots since it is very invasive and impossible to get rid of. 

Society Garlic also has fragrant foliage and pretty blooms, but the foliage smells strongly of garlic and it is a bear to get the scent off your hands once you touch it. Rosemary comes in all shapes and sizes. From the trailing rosemary that makes a marvelous short hedge and has blooms with light blue flowers to the six foot tall upright 'Tuscan Blue' with deep blue flowers.

Oregano is a good plant for front of the border. Many varieties are available. Greek oregano is reputedly the best oregano for cooking and is a low mounding shrub about 18" high and two feet wide. Sheer it back a couple times a year to keep it in bounds.

English lavender (Lavender augusti-folia) has been used for centuries in perfumes. Gray leaves nicely accentuate the deep blue flowers. English lavender only blooms once in summer. There are many varieties of English lavender to fit any site, from Compacta which grows to eight inches, to the standard English lavender officinalis that grows to about three feet high and wide. French lavender has either green (Lavender denata candicans) or gray (Lavender denata) leaves. Hybrids are also available. It grows to about three feet high and wide and has bright blue flowers. In many areas of Southern California it blooms almost continuously.

Complement your garden by adding fragrance, and enjoy.

Link to article about Fragrance in Roses.    

Another link to article about Growing Fragrant Roses for the Home Garden.

© Copyright Steve Jones. All rights reserved.

This article was originally published in "Rose Ecstasy," bulletin of Santa Clarita Valley Rose Society, Kitty Belendez, Editor.

Photos © Copyright by Kitty Belendez

For questions about Santa Clarita Valley Rose Society, contact:
Kitty Belendez


Updated January 3, 2016

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