Most gardeners rate colour as most important thing in the summer garden; that’s why seasonal bedding plants are so popular. They provide the colourful flowers we crave in pots and containers, beds and borders. But what about scent?
For me the fragrance of flowers at any time of year brings a garden to life.
Fragrance is perhaps the most important quality in any rose. Scent is complex and smells different to different people. Roses can be fruit scented, myrrh, musk or old rose, or a mixture. The fabulous English rose ‘Young Lycidas’ is one of my favourites with large flamboyant blooms in a shade of cerise-purple.
The fragrance is heavy, heady and old-rose. One of those flowers where you want to bury your face in the soft petals and just inhale. In a good year, the blooms weigh down the stems which arch across alliums and geraniums.
Evergreen climbers are few and far between, especially those that flower well. Trachelospermum jasminoides is therefore justifiably popular.
Small shining dark green leaves, bright green when young, and red in winter. In mid-summer jasmine flowers of soft cream smother a plant in full sun.
The fragrance is heavy and almost tropical, jasmine with a hit of frangipani I always think. I grow it on a brick pillar which supports the front porch and it’s a delight on the way in or out of the house.
If I had to choose one shrub for fragrance it would be a philadelphus, the mock orange. The best of them all is Philadelphus maculatus ‘Sweet Clare’. Fine twigs, tiny grey green leaves and delicate little white flowers stained purple at the base of the petals.
The flowers are carried under the arching stems, modestly. The fragrance is amazing: pure orange blossom with a hint of sweet spice. ‘Sweet Clare’ is present in the garden long before you see her during the flowering season. This is an addictive scent, hard to drag yourself away from.
The surprising midsummer fragrance comes from the tiny creamy flowers buried amongst the silver leaves of Elaeagnus ‘Quicksilver’.
These exude a heavy fragrance, the type that fills the air on a tropic night. I doubt anyone plants this shrub for its scent, it’s an added bonus. As a light, loose and lovely background shrub this is perhaps my favourite.
Honeysuckle is one of the best known plants for scent, however some varieties have no fragrance at all. Any selections of the common woodbine, Lonicera periclymenum are reliable for that heavy honeysuckle fragrance which is often used as the description of the scent of other flowers. I love Lonicera periclymenum ‘Graham Stuart Thomas’.
It scrambles over the fence and around the stems of a rangy eucalyptus by the front gate. It is particularly wonderful in the cool air of morning or late in the evening when its creamy flowers try to entice pollinating moths with their heavy scent.
Heliotrope has an unusual and rather wonderful old-fashioned fragrance reminiscent of sweet confectionery, hence the common name “cherry pie”.
The velvety flowerheads can hardly be described as showy, but they have a depth of colour and texture that is hard to resist. The species, Heliotropium anomalum was paler on colour than the hybrids seen today, the grey-mauve shade of the inner flowers was applied to a popular colour shade referred to as heliotrope from the late 19th century.
For me this is a subject for the patio to grow with scented foliage pelargoniums and violas which look as if they hail from the same vintage.
The cutting-raised violas are wonderful perennial plants for the front of the border or patio containers.
They have a delicate fragrance that is distinctive of the pansy and viola population. Viola ‘Columbine’ is just one delightful variety with happy, smiling, pale blue and white streaked flowers that remind me of beach huts.
Nemesia aromatica has become very popular as a seasonal container plant in recent years and the market seems flooded with different varieties. I gravitate towards the blues, which have a nice, sweet scent, and the reds which don’t smell.
Last year I was persuaded to grow the white and lemon ‘Lady Vanilla; wow! What a fragrance. Sweet vanilla scent wafts through the terrace from pots on the steps. Even those that claim they have no sense of smell have remarked on it. What’s more this variety repeats better than some others.
I have seen Gardenia ‘Kleim’s Hardy’ widely promoted in catalogues and newspapers and I’ve always been sceptical. I love gardenias and I’ve seen the single-flowered ones growing in Australia, but I couldn’t imagine they would overwinter in more temperate climates.
‘Kleim’s Hardy’ is not the toughest character. It is fine outdoors over summer, but I would give it some protection in winter in all but the mildest areas. It is free flowering. The single flowers are attractive when they open, but look rather like dirty linen as they age.
The fragrance is lovely, not as good as the classic double gardenia, but similar and the plant is easier to grow.