Choose Your Sweetest Flowers

June 1, 2014 | By | Comments (32)
Sweet Flowers

The incomparably sweet gardenia. Photo: Steve Bender

What is the sweetest flower of all? Answer that question and I can probably tell what’s growing in your garden. Of all our senses, I think smell is the one most closely linked to memory. A single whiff of a flower instantly transports you back to a time and place when you encountered it as a child.

Flowers are fragrant for the same reason that women who want babies dab vanilla extract behind their ears on that special night. (Chicago Cubs fans use mustard.) They crave pollination in order to propagate the species. The fragrance tells pollinating insects and animals that a bloom is open for business and also leads them to the target.

Sweet-scented flowers manipulate people too. We may not pollinate blossoms, but their perfume makes them so desirable that we buy them at garden centers and plant them in our gardens. The constant demand keeps growers propagating more of them to sell.

Of course, not all fragrant flowers smell sweet. For example, the blooms of voodoo lilies (Amorphophallus sp.) smell like carrion. This attracts flies, their chief pollinators. After it’s pollinated, the bloom no longer stinks. I’ll bet hyenas would love voodoo lilies, but our homeowners association prohibits hyenas.

Grumpy’s Top Ten
Let’s have a little fun here. I’m going to name my 10 favorite fragrant flowers. Let’s see how well my list matches yours. Tell me what favorites I left out and why they’re special to you.

1. Gardenia (Gardenia jasminoides) — In Grumpy’s opinion, gardenia possesses the most powerfully sweet fragrance of any flower. Place one to your nose and you’ll swoon.

2. Winter daphne (Daphne odora) — Few shrubs bloom towards the end of winter, but when this does, it literally fills the garden with its citrusy-spice scent. You often smell it before you see it.

3. Japanese wisteria (Wisteria floribunda) — Yes, it’s a rampant weed in many places, but what other vine flaunts pendant chains of blue-violet flowers so sweet that they’ll turn your head around?

4. Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) — One of the South’s two iconic, native, large trees (live oak is the other), Southern magnolia adorns its branches with huge white blossoms that smell like heaven must. In towns where magnolias line the streets, you can smell the trees the moment you step out of the front door.

5. Common lilac (Syringa vulgaris) — I include this as a nod to my Northern friends, many of whom remember the perfume of lilacs growing in the gardens of their parents and grandparents. Common lilac doesn’t bloom well in the South, unfortunately, and the new heat-tolerant hybrids simply aren’t as fragrant as the old-fashioned kind.

6. Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) — No doubt, this vine is a terrible weed. No doubt, too, that the sweet, pure fragrance of its flowers tempts you to forgive it. Honeysuckle smells like spring. Ever suck nectar from the tip of the bloom?

7. Bearded iris (Iris hybrid) — My mother’s favorite flower. So many colors, such tough plants, such powerful fragrance. Break off a plump flower bud and it still opens.

8. Confederate jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides) — When it’s blooming, I don’t think there’s a space so large this vine can’t fill it with sweetness.

9. Easter lily (Lilium longiflorum) — It blooms at Easter only because growers force it to. Plant it in your garden and it’ll knock you down with fragrance each summer.

10. Sweet shrub aka Carolina allspice (Calycanthus floridus) — Its brownish-red flowers aren’t much to look at. But who cares when they smell like Juicy Fruit gum? Not all sweet shrubs smell like this, so take a whiff of the blooms before you buy.

Hear Grumpy Speak!
Be at the Douglasville, Georgia Courthouse next Saturday, June 7, at 2 PM, where, in addition to being tried for Crimes Against Humanity, Grumpy will speak at the annual Penny McHenry Hydrangea Festival. You can also tour private, local gardens! For more info, call 770-949-4090. Celebrate Douglas County Georgia



  1. Lana Grasso

    Gardenias reign supreme, but an old-fashion one that hasn’t been mentioned is Bridal Veil Spirea. Lemon trees are hard to beat, too.

    July 1, 2014 at 5:50 pm
  2. Rick T.

    Edgeworthia and the various viburnum.

    June 5, 2014 at 4:32 pm
  3. home, garden, life

    Peonies should be added to this list, Grumpy. My heirlooms provoke comments at the farmer’s market like ” smells like home”. Yes flowers draw us back to our happy childhood times. Great post!

    June 5, 2014 at 7:22 am
  4. Kelly

    Honeysuckle! (And yes, I love retrieving that drop of nectar)

    I also love the smell of gardenias and moonflowers.

    June 3, 2014 at 12:22 pm
  5. Gigi Donovan

    How about sweet olive? These evergreens bloom every couple months with very fragrant apricot smelling flowers.

    June 3, 2014 at 10:26 am
  6. Linda

    Gardenias, lilacs, OF COURSE, and Iris, I love them even if many people think they don’t have a real scent at all, but you forgot a couple biggies: Peonies for sure, and Lily of the Valley!

    June 3, 2014 at 12:50 am
  7. Sylvia W.

    Old-fashioned roses (antique?), if you can find them, are so intoxicating. Lily of the Valley are sweet. Honeysuckle is sweet;tea olive smells sweet. Gardenias smell sexy. I haven’t seen Lily of the Valley in SC. And Lavender is heavenly, clean, & reminbs me of grandmothers.

    June 2, 2014 at 10:52 pm
  8. Dea

    I’m a southern girl, but I do remember the fragrance of lilacs blooming in my parents’ back yard when I was a child. And old-fashioned roses. Nothing smells more like romance. But your comment about sucking honeysuckle nectar and the remembrance of that sweet, sweet smell took me back to barefoot summer days in the mid-South. Wow! Scent really awakens those memory cells! (And I do have roses in my garden, but since I’m not very mobile and can’t really work in my garden anymore, I don’t have any other flowering plants.)

    June 2, 2014 at 9:25 pm
  9. MariaB

    I’m old fashion, my 10 favorites include Sweet Peas, Lily of the valley, Gardenia, Heliatrope, various Jasmine, Rose, Plumeria, Lilac, Honey suckle and Lilies, i.e. Star glazer.

    June 2, 2014 at 8:52 pm
  10. Donna

    Down south is the orange blossom with the rest from this list.

    June 2, 2014 at 6:59 pm
  11. Colin McKnight

    Here in the north, lilacs and peonies are the stars of the spring, as far as perfume goes. But I found a viola this spring with a yellow tiger striped face that has an incredible scent, too. Supposedly, it’s hardy, so we’ll see if this beauty comes back to brighten spring next year.

    June 2, 2014 at 4:06 pm
  12. BellaBike

    You forgot Kudzu! When the entire drape of it blooms, in September here, you get face-fullss of grape kool-aid fragrance. Now, none of us would ever plant it on purpose, but those banks of bloomin’ vine I pass while out bicycling are intoxicating.

    June 2, 2014 at 1:27 pm
  13. Tracy

    I adore lily of the valley!

    June 2, 2014 at 12:01 pm
  14. Npen

    I loved my Augusta Gardenias until they all died this past winter… 😦

    June 2, 2014 at 10:49 am
  15. Joanmarie Sarnelli

    Grumpy: did you really forget roses? I can see overlooking the luscious little Lily of the Valley and the intoxicating Hyacinth,orange blossoms, heliatrope & sweet peas and but rose and lavender have been cultivated for their fragrance for hundreds if not thousands of years!

    June 2, 2014 at 10:48 am
  16. Gloria

    I miss my daphne that I left in Georgia. Wonder if it grows in Florida?

    June 2, 2014 at 10:35 am
  17. Monika

    Lavender – can’t forget lavender!

    June 2, 2014 at 10:21 am
  18. Rosita Cuadra

    Gardenias, my

    June 2, 2014 at 10:03 am
  19. Penny

    Mahonia – when covered with the little yellow flowers, smells like warm honey. Also, mock orange.

    June 2, 2014 at 9:41 am
  20. Serenity

    Ah, the lilacs of the North … incredible fragrance! I have three lovely gardenias, one Conferderate jasmine, a couple of Mandevillas, bearded iris, several varieties of peony and a full herb garden for fragrance. Now I’ll be researching Sweet Shrub and Winter Daphne to see first if it will grown in my area and secondly if there is room for it. LOL (If it grows in South Carolina, I’ll make room!)

    June 2, 2014 at 9:19 am
  21. Sandra Styron Kelley

    tea olive for sure!

    June 2, 2014 at 8:50 am
  22. tmckoy

    Ligustrum definitely. You can even smell this fragrant scent on the back of a Harley going 65mph.

    June 1, 2014 at 7:42 pm
  23. Vicki Betts

    Winter honeysuckle and narcissus jonquila–they bring you through the gray months here in East Texas.

    June 1, 2014 at 3:17 pm
  24. Mary


    June 1, 2014 at 3:00 pm
  25. Margaret Macy

    sambac jasmine(the best), tuberose, peace rose (my mom), american beauty rose( grandmother)

    June 1, 2014 at 12:58 pm
  26. Lynne S. N.

    Tea Olive and Banana Shrub.

    June 1, 2014 at 12:41 pm
  27. Beka

    Tea olive trees

    (Ps chestnut flowers smell much like carrion too)

    June 1, 2014 at 11:14 am
  28. Deborah Cowart

    The red roses I have in my yary

    June 1, 2014 at 11:09 am
  29. Jean

    Grump you have listed some of the best. Easter lilies often make people sick especially florists if they have to work with a lot of them. You also forgot mimosa trees….they are heavenly too but pests.

    June 1, 2014 at 10:54 am
  30. Barbara

    I love these & ligustrum & tea olive!

    June 1, 2014 at 10:37 am
  31. Carolyn Martin

    I remember sucking the nectar from the honeysuckle as a kid! Ligustrum blooms also have a wonderful scent. You can smell them when walking by many feet away.

    June 1, 2014 at 10:37 am
  32. kbaumle

    Ohhhh, you left out lily-of-the-valley. It might just be my all-time favorite flower fragrance. It doesn’t remind me of a thing. It just smells SO good.

    June 1, 2014 at 10:05 am

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s