No matter if it’s spring or fall, or if you like bright blooms or rustic greenery, your garden should be a place of refuge. When the wind carries the fresh aroma of your blooming flora, it’s nothing less than a blissful moment. Placing those fragrant blooms into a vase for your kitchen? Even better. However, not all plants smell so sweet, and we’d all do well to avoid a few unsavory picks hidden amongst the roses and daisies. Sometimes the mistake is made before even leaving the nursery, where something as seemingly insignificant as the color—or even the sex—of the plant can make the difference between a sweet honeysuckle-like smell and an unappetizing skunky stench. Beware the foul, the stinky, the rancid, and the fishy; here are 10 smelly plants you should keep out of your garden.
Bradford Pear Tree
(Pyrus calleryana «Bradford»)
Our favorite outdoorsman, the Grumpy Gardener, has a thing or two to say about Bradford pear trees. Most namely, that he absolutely hates them. Aside from its thorny seedlings and invasive growth pattern, the Bradford pear tree stands out for another unpalatable reason: Its smell can only be described as that of a dead fish. Yep, its flowers smell overwhelmingly fishy. That means you can be hundreds of miles away from the closest coastline, but you’re still smelling that rancid tuna all year long. Thanks, but no thanks.
These brightly-hued flowers might look rather regal in your garden or pots, but the fragrance—er, more like odor—is definitely the star of the show. Some say sulfurous and phenolic, others say straight-up skunky. No matter your nose’s preference, you don’t want to be caught smelling this flower in a stiff wind. If you can’t help but love the pretty drooping blooms, plant them in a secluded spot.
While there’s no denying the sheer beauty of the ginkgo tree when its leaves turn that bright yellow hue, you’ll be holding your nose if you accidentally plant a female ginkgo tree instead of a male. Their fruit is messy and smelly in a way that’ll make your senses take a real hit. The fruit contains butanoic acid, reminiscent of the smell of stomach acid. Stick with male ginkgo trees to make sure your yard stays happy and bright—and stink-free.
These dainty bunches of ivory blooms pack a punch in the fragrance department. Instead of the sweet floral notes you’d expect from this plant, you’ll get more of a sour, rank odor we’ve heard described fittingly as «dirty sweat socks.» However, valerian can make a suitable addition to the herb garden since it contains medicinal benefits when used to brew tea or to soak in the bath. With that in mind, maybe the repugnant odor is a small price to pay?
Did you know that the English boxwood variety just happens to smell like a litter box? While boxwood takes any garden from shabby to chic in the blink of an eye, you better choose wisely. English boxwood is quite the looker, but it shouldn’t be used to flank your front door if you want to welcome guests without making them pinch their noses. It’s known to smell a little—or a lot—like cat pee. When in doubt, Japanese boxwood will cover your bases with style and without the stench.
This distinctive flower gives that much-desired pop of blue color during the summertime. The prickly blooms turn into globe-like thistles that have a unique power to make you think you’re smelling—please, excuse us—dog poop. Before you survey the yard for the source of the offending stench, just know it’s your beautiful, blooming blue sea holly. As a small consolation, you can pick these flowers, rinse the scent off them, and use them in arrangements.
Also known as creeping phlox, this plant offers a stunning sweep of bright color over your flowerbed. Offering vibrant shades of blues, purples, and pinks, this plant makes a statement in every garden—and not just because of its looks. It emits an odor that smells akin to cannabis. While it usually doesn’t lead to criminal investigation when planted in your garden, you can never be too safe. (What would the neighbors think?)
The leathery green leaves and dainty white blooms of this plant make it a popular native plant of Florida. The evergreen shrubs are also dotted with small red berries that are edible, but the real attention-grabber is its scent. On a still, mild day, you might not notice; but on a warm day flecked with seasonal breezes, get ready for a skunky surprise. To be delicate, we could describe it as an unpleasant «earthiness,» but we’re all friends here.
Something about these tall, skinny purple blooms makes us want to forgive their off-putting scent. If you couldn’t guess from the name, the plant gives off a distinct garlicky odor that might or might not bother you. After a warm rain, however, expect the stench to be at its strongest. If you’re worried, just skip potting this plant to put on your porch or to flank your front door. Besides, we’ll take a garlicky scent over skunky any day.
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- Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University. Wake up and smell the ginkgos.
- National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. Valerian.