Planting for a Perfumed Garden

Perfume can be enjoyed in the garden from winter right through to the autumn, when some of the fruits have a delightful, tangy smell. To begin the year there is the witch hazel, Hamamelis mollis, with its lovely strap-like delicate flowers and a heady scent in January. At the same time the winter sweet Chimonanthus fragrans will be scenting a sunny corner of the garden, and Sarcococca humilis will provide a low, evergreen bush with delightfully scented white flowers. Beginning even earlier, you can have Viburnum fragrans which starts flowering in October, if you are lucky. Then there is the well-known Daphne mezereum which has highly scented, mauvy flowers on bare stems. There is also a white form. Some of the dwarf bulbs, such as Iris reticulata and Iris unguicularis (stylosa) are scented, and in spring the Daphnes, such as D. cneorum, continue to contribute their fragrance. D. cneorum makes a spreading mat of apple-green foliage with delicious deep pink buds opening to paler pink, scented flowers – an excellent garden plant. Choisya ternata, the Mexican orange blossom, has the advantage of being evergreen and produces clusters of delightfully scented white flowers; sadly this is not over-hardy and is sometimes damaged by severe winters. Viburnums continue to provide scent into spring, notably V. carlesii. This forms substantial clusters of pink-budded white flowers and dark leathery green leaves and is a most effective, scented shrub.

Later on, in the spring, Azalea mollis has a tangy scent to its flowers. More down-to-earth is the familiar lily-of-the-valley and Primula reidii ‘Williamsii’, an Asian primula with delicate leaves and an attractively heady, scented flower. In summer, there is the great advantage of annuals. Here there is only room to list some of the well-known varieties: mignonette, slightly out of favour in recent years because of its dull flowers, but its scent is magnificent; stocks which have a delightfully heady scent; the tobacco plant; and, of course, sweet peas that can be grown either informally over pea sticks or trained up stakes. The latter method gives you larger blooms but the former gives you more. Paeonies are opulent-looking flowers with a delicate scent. Pinks are easier to grow than carnations which seem to have lost their scent in the attempt to breed different colour forms. In midsummer the Daphnes come to the fore again and a personal favourite is D. x ‘Somerset’. This forms a neat 1.2m- (4ft-) tall shrub which is covered in heavily scented clusters of pinky flowers. Honeysuckles, either clambering up a pergola or allowed to wander through a tree or a large shrub, or even in a hedge, give a delicious evening scent, as does the summer-flowering Jasminum officinale. This is a climber and has long arching branches covered in small white scented flowers.

In late June, Philadelphus coronarius in its many-forms and named cultivars provides a variety of scents. The bushes range in size from 4.5m (15ft) to small 1.2m (4ft-) shrubs. Lilies should not be overlooked. Count your blessings if you live in an area where Lily Beetle is not prevalent— unfortunately I cannot grow lilies safely because of this pest. Lilies have a strong scent and you can always tell when people have been sniffing them too deeply from the dark pollen on their noses.

Bulbs provide a number of scents. I first came across Narcissus poeticus in the wild and detected it by its scent before I saw the field full of the single white narcissus flowers. A less common but very easily grown South African bulb is Tulbaghia fragrantissima. This has softly scented whitish flowers with a peachy tinge and tends to seed itself freely around the garden, seemingly undeterred by hard winters. It flowers from June onwards with an occasional flower as late as October.

For forcing into bloom for Christmas, flowering the hyacinth has no equal. You can have a succession of scented hyacinths from Christmas right through to March, beginning with pot blooms and ending with those planted in the garden. A delicate scent that really has to be discovered (by getting on your hands and knees and sticking your nose into the flower) comes from Cyclamen purpurascens. This flowers from midsummer onwards.


The herb garden provides its perfume in a different manner for you have to pinch the foliage to sample the relevant perfume. Lavender immediately comes to mind, since both the flowers and the foliage when squeezed exude a very familiar scent. Rosemary has perhaps a little less attractive perfume. Rue has delightful blue-green foliage, but when squeezed the foliage does give out a smell which some consider unpleasant. Mint not only adorns roast lamb, but also has in its variegated forms some very attractive foliage; all the mints emit fragrant scents when their leaves are rubbed.

A shrub of dubious hardiness and with flowers of no significance, but one we persist with because of its incredible foliage is lemon-scented verbena Lippia citriodora. Marjoram is another well-known herb used in cooking with again a strongish scent. Of the flattest-growing herbs, plant camomile and thyme so that as you walk on them the scent rises from the crushed leaves.

26. May 2013 by admin
Categories: Featured, Garden Management, Top Tips | Comments Off on Planting for a Perfumed Garden


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

Join other followers: