Flowering shrubs help add interest to urban landscaping and encourage beneficial insects and birds to visit. However, finding fragrant shade-loving shrubs is a chore. Fortunately, there are some species that are hardy in most of the climate zones and do well in full shade. Some are low-growing while others can reach heights of 10 feet or more. Some are North American natives and some are imported, mainly from Asia.
Fragrant or Winter Daphne (Daphne odora)
This hardy, upright growing shrub with a mounded habit reaches 4 to 7 feet in hardiness USDA zones 7 to 9. While winter daphne can be grown in full sun, it prefers partial to full shade and loose, moist, well-drained soil. Winter daphne has shiny, deep green leaves and pale- to rose-pink, very fragrant flowers. Winter daphne is a good shrub for the north side of a building or along a north facing wall. The cultivar Alba has off-white fragrant flowers.
Burkwood Daphne (Daphne burkwoodii)
A small, semi-evergreen shrub that prefers partial shade, moist, well-drained soil with a pH near neutral, Burkwood daphne can reach 3 to 4 feet in hardiness USDA zones 4 to 9 and has a rounded-to-spreading growth habit. Burkwood daphne flowers start as a cluster of pink buds that open to become very fragrant pale pink to white flowers blooming in May and June and may reflower in early fall. Several cultivars are available including Arthur Burkwood, Briggs Moonlight, Carol Mackie, Silveredge and Somerset.
Summersweet Clethra or Sweet Pepper Bush (Clethra alnifolia)
Summersweet clethra is a hardy, pest-resistant, medium-sized ornamental shrub that can reach 6 feet with a spread of 5 feet in hardiness zones 3 to 9. It prefers partial to full shade and is adaptable to a wide range of conditions including occasionally dry soils, winter salt spray and permanently moist to continuously wet sites. Heavy pruning to remove winterkilled wood is recommend to promote compactness and promote flowering as flowers appear on the new growth. Leaves are medium to dark green and the flowers are shell pink to light pink, blooming anytime from late July to early September and will last for about three weeks. The bottlebrush-like blooms are about 4 inches long, fragrant, fine-textured and upright, attracting many butterflies, bees and hummingbirds. Summersweet Clethra is native to the Eastern United States. Cultivars include Hummingbird, Pink Spires and Rosea.
Virginia Sweetspire (Itea virginica)
Highly adaptable and pest resistant, Virginia sweetspire prefers partial to full shade and can tolerate alkaline pH soils and dry conditions. It is a very hardy, small to medium deciduous ornamental shrub that reaches 6 feet with a spread 6 feet in hardiness zones 5 to 9. The cultivar Henry's Garnet is commonly available and has intensely burgundy-green, glossy leaves that change to a mixture of green, yellow, orange and scarlet in the fall. The fragrant bottlebrush-like flowers are white and appear from mid-June into early July. Virginia sweetspire is native to the southern U.S.
Sweet Mock Orange (Philadelphus coronaries)
A multi-stemmed 8 to 10 foot deciduous shrub, sweet mock orange has simple medium to dark green leaves and fragrant four-petaled white flowers that bloom late May to early June. Sweet mock orange is pest resistant and prefers partial shade and moist, well-drained soils high in organic matter. Older single-flower forms are more fragrant than new hybrids. Cultivars include Aurens, Nanus (also known as Pumilus) and Variegatus.
- University of Connecticut Plant Database: Philadelphus coronarius
- Ohio State University Horticulture and Crop Science: Itea virginica Virginia Sweetspire
- Ohio State University Horticulture and Crop Science: Clethra alnifolia Summersweet Clethra, Clethra, Summersweet, or Sweet Pepper Bush
- University of Connecticut Plant Database: Daphne x burkwoodii Burkwood Daphne
- University of Delaware Botanic Gardens: Daphne odora