When it comes to lifting the spirits, a garden full of beautiful flowery scents is right up there with bluebell woods and wildflower meadows.
Five minutes spent surrounded by heavenly perfume can work wonders – and why have a garden if not to awaken the senses and feel closer to nature?
‘Stop and smell the roses’ the old saying advises, taking it for granted that roses (above) have a glorious aroma. Well, plenty of them do and what a joy to go to a nursery or garden centre to choose some new ones. When planning some additions or renovations to your garden, whether featuring roses or not, consider scent on a par with colour and form to create a beautiful fragrant haven for all the time you spend outside, working, pottering or just watching the grass grow.
Aromas tend to linger in sheltered areas – in a small garden that could be the whole plot – but in any case, space your fragrances carefully. Make sure subtle scents are located a little distance from stronger ones or their effect may be lost and your grand plans may all end up in aromatic overload!
Some plants, including roses, release scent naturally; others when leaves or petals are crushed or rubbed. Whiffs of lemon verbena or various mints as you brush past borders or tubs make a stroll down the garden path worthwhile, and wild thyme springing up between paving stones rewards being trodden on with a lovely herby tang yet the plant still survives.
Containers are a good idea because you can position them near doors and windows and enjoy the delightful scents as they waft indoors. Sweet alyssum, scented-leaved pelargoniums, hyacinths, petunias, violas and nemesia are all good bets. Try adding some of these or small wild strawberries to a hanging basket, or look for a scented mix in nurseries and garden centres. Also, if you’ve fallen in love with a beautifully odoriferous plant that you just know isn’t going to thrive in your garden soil, you can make sure everything is right for it in a tub (position carefully if a large one because it will be difficult to move).
Whether your new plants are destined for a container or the ground, check the height and spread and allow enough space for them when fully grown. And be honest about the amount of time and effort you want to spend looking after them – exotic is lovely but may require patience and devotion!
When it comes to climbers – a wisteria-covered wall, honeysuckle pergola, rose arch, jasmine trellis, clematis wigwam – choose plants for scent and flowering time, linger close by and you’ll be transported to perfume heaven!
Grow for cutting
A house full of flowers is much more of an affordable luxury when you grow the blooms yourself. Either make sure to include suitable plants in your main displays or even set aside an area especially for them so your beds and borders don’t look gappy once you start picking for the house – and the cutting garden will smell divine!
Most flowers and foliage can be used to make lovely arrangements but for especially fragrant ones, roses are hard to beat. You could try phlox, which is undemanding and grows in most soils. Large scented flower clusters appear from July to September. Sweet William, pink and carnation (all species of Dianthus) are also a good bet – summer-flowering annuals, biennials or perennials, depending on varieties. Another summer flowerer is the sweet pea (Lathyrus odoratus) – hundreds of varieties in different colours. As for scent, the clue’s in the name.
For cheering up long winter days, try Buddleia auriculata, which flowers in November and December and smells of lemons, or one of the daphnes, D. odora ‘Aureomarginata’, which produces headily scented flowers in late winter, early spring. Witch hazel (Hamamelis) has no leaves at that time of year, since it’s a deciduous shrub, but it makes up for it with spidery yellow, orange or red flowers that have a distinctive spicy smell. As for foliage, consider rosemary, which has the advantage of being useful in the kitchen, too.
If space allows, why not plant a tree? Consider crabapple (opposite) for scented flowers in mid to late spring, or loquat for autumn perfume. For something more exotic, look at the pink silk tree (Albizia julibrissin f. rosea) from the mimosa family. A medium-sized deciduous tree, its fragrant fluffy pink summer flowers make it look distinctly un-English. For anyone who can provide it with well-drained soil in full sun, it makes an attractive choice. The eucalyptus tree has delicately aromatic grey-green leaves, and twigs may become a favourite for indoor flower arrangements.
One of life’s pleasures is to relax in the garden later in the day and enjoy the fruits of your planning and work. Some plants release their scent at this time in order to attract pollinators, mostly moths. Evening primrose, for instance, uncurls its petals at dusk to release a delightful, delicate aroma.
Old-fashioned tuberose, a favourite of Victorian gardeners, has upright stems, an intense aroma and grows well in containers, and night-scented stock, while not the tidiest of plants, can turn a balmy summer evening into a magical one.
If you plan carefully, your garden can be full of fragrance all year. Have fun browsing catalogues and check before you buy to make sure your choices are going to fulfil all your criteria. Here are a few suggestions.
Some species of narcissus have a lovely spring scent, as do grape hyacinths, while lily of the valley is perennially fabulous. If you’re thinking more of shrubs, Korean spice viburnum may be a good choice. Its pink buds open into clusters of white-flower domes that produce an intoxicating, spicy aroma. Other shrubby choices include choisya (aka Mexican orange blossom) and osmanthus, both evergreen with lovely white flowers.
Peony and lilac will take you through to summer when lavender is in its prime. For a powerful scent, look no further than the mock orange. This vigorous deciduous shrub produces loads of semi-double white flowers and looks, as well as smells, absolutely gorgeous.
As autumn approaches, chocolate cosmos smells good enough to eat and the tobacco plant (Nicotiana) comes into its own. The blush pink of Daphne bholua’s flower clusters adds a cheerful note to a dull winter’s day and the intense aroma these plants produce carries a long way. For an evergreen shrub, one of the mahonias (below) is a great choice. Yellow flowers in spiky or drooping sprays last from autumn until the following spring. For a striking alternative, Chimonanthus praecox may be a deciduous shrub but its almost stemless flowers also carry through into spring. As for scent, its common name gives it away – wintersweet.