Gardens stimulate the senses in so many ways, but those that appeal to our sense of smell add a certain magic.
Bright colours and striking flower forms may draw the eye, but a tantalising fragrance carried on the air stimulates the imagination and awakens a sense of pleasure that visual qualities cannot. Favourite scented flowers capture the essence of the season; their presence brings a garden to life.
Fragrance in a garden can be enjoyed at all times of the year, even in winter. Most winter flowering shrubs are fragrant, their fragile blooms have to work that bit harder to attract the few pollinating insects that are around.Scent is often sweeter on the cold air, a magical element that can even be enjoyed on cold, dark evenings and mornings. The lovely Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill’ flowers for months. Clusters of pale mauve-pink blooms start to open at the tips of the shoots before Christmas and are produced freely through to early spring. The fragrance is sweet and powerful, too strong to miss even in larger gardens.Plant it close to the house, but give it room to grow. An upright shrub of open habit it can easily reach 3 metres in height.
There are many viburnums, both deciduous and evergreen, that are valuable garden shrubs thriving in a variety of conditions. Several are fragrant, none more so than the early flowering Viburnum carlesii ‘Diana’. A loose shrub with grey green leaves it is a grafted plant, so be wary of suckers which can arise from the rootstock. In early spring clusters of salmon pink buds appear at the tips of the shoots, opening to clusters of white tubular flowers, pink on the reverse by mid spring. The floral display is not long lasting, but the strong, delicious fragrance earns it a place in any garden.
For those on acid soil Rhododendron luteum, the sweetly scented deciduous azalea is one of the most fragrant delights of late spring.The flowers are elegant and rather like honeysuckle, the colour rich and golden. Preferring the semi-shade of deciduous trees it is a lovely subject for a woodland garden and has the bonus of rich autumn leaf colour later in the year. This shrub is usually noticed by its scent long before the colourful blooms are revealed.
The fragrance of honeysuckle, Lonicera periclymenum is so familiar and evocative it is often used to describe the scent of other flowers. At its best in early morning and evening the flowers use it to catch the attention of moths that will visit and pollinate. A useful climber for light shade it is one of the most wildlife friendly plants you can grow. A food source for insects in summer and later for wild birds which take the juicy red berries.
Although there are evergreen varieties of honeysuckle, Trachelospermum jasminoides is the best and most popular evergreen climber. With small leathery deep green leaves its twining stems will grow in sun and light shade. The starry white jasmine-like flowers are freely produced in summer, filling the garden with their sweet scent. The common name is star jasmine; both the appearance and the fragrance of the flowers are similar to jasmine, an altogether more unruly climber which can be less reliable.
Fragrance is for most of us an essential quality in a rose. A variety may be disease and weather resistant, free flowering and easy to grow, but without a perfume it is second division. Rose fragrances are complex and intriguing. Rosa ‘Lady Emma Hamilton’, an English rose bred by David Austin, is one of the most fragrant of its type. The beautiful apricot orange blooms, set against dark foliage, have a delicious fruit scent with notes of peach, lemon and mango.
Blue roses have a very different scent. The floribunda Rosa ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ is an excellent variety with clusters of semi-double blooms of deep velvety purple-blue. The fragrance is rich and full of ripe oranges. This is an excellent rose for a mixed border with shrubs and perennials.
Orange blossom is another descriptive fragrance and lends its name to the mock-orange, Philadelphus coronarius. There are many varieties to choose from, but usually the single-flowered cultivars are more highly fragrant. Most are vigorous shrubs thriving on any well drained soil. Once established they are drought tolerant and especially successful on chalk and clay. The foliage is plain green and unremarkable and there is no autumn colour. However their two weeks of glory come in early summer when the shrubs are smothered in white, deliciously orange-blossom scented blooms. Prune after flowering, cutting out some of the flowered shoots and leaving the vigorous new growth.
Not everyone has the space to plant another shrub in the garden, even if it is fragrant. However flower bulbs will fit in anywhere: in amongst existing plants or in pots on the terrace. There are many wonderfully scented lilies, but one of the finest has to be Lilium regale. The white trumpet blooms open in mid-summer, flushed purple on the reverse of the petals and gold in the throat they have an elegant beauty as they rise from the border. The perfume is strong, lingering and memorable. Again often at its best in the evening, it brings magic to the garden on a warm summer night.
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