Hardy fragrant perennials for zone 4

lakefarmAugust 18, 2009

Hello everyone. If you hate the winter here, you might as well make as much of the growing season as you can. I do this by having lots of fragrant plants in my yard. So I'm sharing what I've learned so far about fragrant perennials that you can grow here in Minnesota (USDA zone 4) with little worries. First, I think every home gardener in Minnesota should have this link:


Check it out and you'll know what I mean. I learned a lot from it.

I learned that by "fragrant", many authorities mean simply having a smell that is not repulsive, but not necessarily good. For example, flowers that smell "nectary" or "polleny" are considered fragrant by many. This post is about the fragrant ones that you would turn into perfume and wear if you could.

Also be sure to always judge the fragrance for yourself. I've done the mistake of buying plants based on the reputation of their smell, only to find out they smell like a combination of tire rubber and bad breath, while my wife says she loves the smell.. It's very individual.

Here are some fragrant perennials that have survived through Minnesota winter in my yard:

1- Hall's Honeysuckle: the honeysuckle vine with white flowers. Some branches above snow level may die so I grow HH as ground cover and trim anything taller than a foot above ground, then mulch it for the winter. It has a jasmine-like happy quality to its scent and when it's big, it will waft noticeably, especially in the early morning.

2- Fragrant hostas: most notably the Fragrant Blue and Fragrant Gold cultivars. They tend to bloom late in the season (August). Pick some of these flowers and put them in your living room and you'll realize that some hostas aren't all that generic.

3- Mockorange: nice fragrant white flowers on a shrub. Unfortunately these bloom only for about 3 weeks but you can trim them to look like hedge plants. The smell reminds me of sambac jasmine.

4- Rugosa roses: very cold hardy. Extremely thorny. Grows big and fast. Up close the flower smells like incense but the wafting smell is a light, pleasant rose. Bees love it. Comes in many colors.

5- Zone 4 roses: some cultivars found at local nurseries say their shrubs are hardy for zone 4. I found that if you get a zone 4 rose in Minnesota, you will need to cover it with mulch through the winter orelse it will grow from the ground every season. The soft, passionate, relaxing smell of some kinds is definitely worth the work.

6- Oriental lilies: from Trumpet Lilies to Tiger Lilies to the many other different kinds you see in catalogs. In this zone, you would probably get the strongest smell from a Regal Lily.

7- Daffodils: Whatever happened to the Pheasant's Eye daffodil?? This classic spring bloomer smells so strong that it is not recommended to pick it and put it in a vase at home because you might get a headache. The Old House company has a few other hardy daffodil cultivars that are richly fragrant. The smell is incomparable.

8- Magnolia: This tree has a special place in my heart because it blooms quite early in the spring when I'm dying for a blossom. Leonard Missel smells to me like the old candy Pez. Not particularly strong but when a tree has tens of flowers at one time, it will waft a few feet away.

9- Daylilies: There are some fragrant varieties you can seek out at nurseries, but you probably won't smell anything unless you're quite close to the flowers, or if they are numerous enough. They still smell pretty good, though.

10- Lily of The Valley: The one we all know and love. Great for shady areas and likes to be moist for most of the time. Best grown as a patch in order to get the maximum smell effect.

11- Hyacinth: Another spring bloomer with a heady smell (like carnations). Very much worth buying.

12- Border carnations are cold hardy here. The flowers are not impressively large but definitely fragrant.

13- Carol Macke Daphne: this is the one I totally hate the smell of but I'm putting out there because my wife says it smells fantastic and many other people agree. Nevertheless, I do like the appearance of the shrub.

14- Summersweet (Sweet Pepperbush): Has a heady yet sweet quality to its fragrance. Takes its sweet time to make leaves and even more time to bloom. Likes acidic soil and moderate shade.

15- Lilacs of most kinds. A Dwarf Korean lilac performs well in my backyard but doesn't bloom for long.

There. Please share your fragrant perennials and let's show these zone 9+ dwellers that tropicals flowers aren't the only nice smelling ones!

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Swamp Milkweed - I don't know if you can plant it, it's just always grown abundantly near most places I've lived up here - but it's heavenly. I don't want my yard or pasture full of it (it's poisonous, the horses don't eat it so it can easily take over since it's the only thing that HASN'T been eaten) so I only leave a few plants near the house and I cut the flowers off in the pasture (now that I know to) - but the fragrance never fails to amaze me. Just doesn't seem like it should be coming from a plant!

I also have a poppy that just 'showed up' here one summer and has spread its self around - much to my delight! It's carnation pink, so frilly it almost looks like a mum or peony and it smells like a combination between roses, carnations and something just incredibly sweet. NO one I know who's seen and smelled it in full bloom leaves without making me promise to save seeds for them. Another plus is it starts blooming pretty early and just continues on all summer - maybe taking a short break for the hottest couple of weeks or so.

I'll think of more I'm sure - but these were the first few that came to mind. :)
Thanks for your list - there's a few on there that I'll have to give a try!

Here is a link that might be useful: Pink Poppy

    Bookmark   August 19, 2009 at 9:29PM
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peggy_hosta(z4 neSD)

Another hosta that's is fragrant is 'Stained Glass'

    Bookmark   August 20, 2009 at 12:52PM
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Thanks guthriegatorfarm! Now I know why my neighbors like to have milkweed. I'll be sure to check out the poppy as well.

Keep them coming, everyone!

    Bookmark   August 20, 2009 at 1:17PM
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We'd have to have milkweed anyway - it's just so fun to watch the Monarch's life cycle so close up! Especially when the kids' friends come over - they love to run out there and show them!

    Bookmark   August 21, 2009 at 2:24PM
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I quite like the smell of monarda, beebalm. Same with dictamnus, gas plant. Both are strong and citrusy. Gary

    Bookmark   August 23, 2009 at 9:39PM
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dandy_line(3B (Brainerd, Mn))

How about Catalpa. I used to have a nice tree in Excelsior and when it bloomed in June the aroma covered the entire yard.
Why isn't this tree more widely planted? It's spectacular.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2009 at 9:12PM
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marcjoli(z4 MN S.Metro)

guthriegatorfarm, would you have a couple of extra poppy seeds to share or trade?

    Bookmark   August 24, 2009 at 10:58PM
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marquest(z5 PA)

Time to bump this up for this year.

I would like to add Iris.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2010 at 3:42PM
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My favorite smelling perennial is Nepeta/catmint - pretty purple, repeat blooming flowers and a nice minty smell.

Thanks for the info.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2010 at 10:20PM
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Cimicifuga! Sweet-smelling like lilacs or clethra. The only problem is it's hard to sniff the blooms because the honey bees love it, too!

    Bookmark   May 17, 2010 at 12:43PM
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dandy_line(3B (Brainerd, Mn))

I just discovered Cacalia, a native that grows quite tall with white blooms. But the aroma is like vanilla and quite strong.
Unfortunately, I forgot to collect seeds last fall.

Here is a link that might be useful: Cacalia atriplicifolia

    Bookmark   May 18, 2010 at 7:58PM
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Can't believe no one mentioned peony yet; one of my favs. Also anise hyssop and quinine.

And, if you include the leaves too, there are many more fragrant plants. A few I like:
anise hyssop
lemon balm
creeping charley
some geraniums

    Bookmark   May 19, 2010 at 10:29PM
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north40(z3 MN)

In my gardens some of the perennials that have a nice scent are Mother of Thyme, lavender, crab apple tree blossoms (right now in full bloom with hundreds of bees in them), grape hycinths, iris, jonquils, tulips, oriental lilies, peonies, lily of the valley, Royal Standard hosta, lilacs, and I'm sure I'm forgetting some.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2010 at 8:15AM
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All of my favorites--Monarda, hyssop, lavender, catmint, and thyme have been mentioned, but some of the scented mints are nice as well--I like the pineapple mint.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2010 at 9:11AM
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jennypat Zone 3b NW MN(Zone 3b NW MN)

One of my favorites that no one has mentioned, is Valeriana Officinalis, I know it can be a medicinal herb. Mine hitched into my yard with a day lily from a friend. Took me ages to figure out what it was, but I love it!

Jenny P

    Bookmark   May 22, 2010 at 1:47PM
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mnwsgal 4 MN(4)

Has someone mentioned iris? One evening I was wondering where the scent was coming from, forgetting that I had tucked a single small bloom behind my ear. LOL

    Bookmark   May 22, 2010 at 5:01PM
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meeperx(z4/5 Mpls)

catmint, summersweet, and lilac are the ones I can smell in the garden without walking directly up to the plant and giving it a sniff.

    Bookmark   May 23, 2010 at 1:38PM
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I second Peonies, lazzy, My favorites though are the orienpet lilies in the evening. I have them planted under my porch.
Wonderfully,indescribable scent!

    Bookmark   May 23, 2010 at 10:44PM
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