I WAS showing some people round the garden the other day when one of the ladies commented on the scent of one of my plants.
She seemed surprised that the flower should be scented at all.
I have always taken it for granted that my garden is particularly strongly scented at this time of year.
I have grown up with the plants which I love and many are old varieties which are strongly perfumed.
I would not have it any other way.
To me, a Rose should smell like a Rose and a Garden Pink should smell like a Garden Pink.
Admittedly, newer varieties of plants are hardier, more floriferous and available in oh so many colours but without scent, they are half the plant they should be.
Fragrance can evoke many emotions – it can take you back to your childhood, it can affect your mood and even heal (think of Aromatherapy for example) and it is available in as many shades of scent as there are of colours.
It is often overlooked when planning a garden and this, to my mind, is a mistake. One of the joys of life is to sit outside on a quiet, still evening and drink in the heady perfume of plants.
The most strongly scented flowers are often white but this is not exclusive and it is possible to compile quite a collection of scented flowers to see you nicely through the Summer.
I would start with the backbone of the garden – shrubs.
The one which springs to mind (and the source of the perfume which my visitor commented upon) is Philadelphus, a tough old boot of a plant which can be relied upon to provide a profusion of white blooms throughout early and mid summer.
‘Belle Etoile’ and ‘Virginal’ are highly scented, ‘Manteau d’Hermine’ has fabulous double flowers and ‘Aureus’ has more creamy coloured flowers and golden yellow foliage, which contrasts well with the blooms.
Scented climbers can be used to good effect.
Their perfume is often better captured in a sheltered position where the wind can not carry it away, such as a patio or courtyard, where they are useful for covering walls.
Jasminum officinale and Trachelospermum jasminoides are both white flowered with the most heady of scents and will benefit from the shelter of being grown close to the house.
Neither is particularly difficult to cultivate although my Trachelospermum died last winter as it is not hugely hardy. Lonicera periclymenum (Honeysuckle) is much tougher and available in many colours.
Some of the best scented varieties include ‘Graham Thomas’, white flowers ageing to yellow, and ‘Serotina’ whose dark purple flowers appear mid to late summer.
This plant is particularly useful as it does not mind shade.
Many scented perennials exist as even the old varieties are still available.
Some of my favourites include Dianthus ‘Mrs Sinkins’, a fabulous old fashioned clove-scented pink, Phlox paniculata ‘Bright Eyes’ and Violas (both perennial and biennial varieties are sometimes strikingly scented and are available in a huge range of colours).
The scent in the borders and in pots closer to the house is furthered with the annual and biennials which do the donkey work of summer.
I would not be without Nicotiana sylvestris, a large annual with white, tubular flowers and a heavy scent, Matthiolas (Stocks) and Oenothera (Evening Primrose) whose yellow flowers have a quite unusual scent difficult to describe.
The tender perennial Nemesia ‘Confetti’ is one of the strongest scented plants I know and flowers all summer if kept well tended.
For real knockout scent, however, you really can not beat Lilies. Not all are scented, so choose carefully.
I grow Lilium regale, Lilium candidum (Madonna Lily), both pale coloured and tall, and L. ‘Star Gazer’ which is a rich crimson with darker spots on the petals.
All grow well in the garden and in pots and are excellent for cutting, although watch the pollen as it may put paid to a favourite item of clothing.
Finally, if I was allowed just one Rose it would be Rosa Mundi, a fabulous confection resembling raspberry ripple ice-cream with a truly wonderful scent.
Sadly, all too brief and over within a few weeks, but worth every minute and you have the satisfaction of knowing that you are smelling the same scent that would have been noticed by its gardeners hundreds of years ago, which, I guess, is why it is still popular today.
Plant of the month
Rosa ‘Constance Spry’
I know I said just one rose but you should all know me by now and will therefore, I hope, forgive me for choosing a Rose as plant of the month every year at this time.
This one is a shrub rose with a graceful, arching habit that will climb if given support.
Its pink flowers are cupped and double and its fragrance is rich and spicy.
Its leaves are dark green and healthy and it lasts well as a cut flower.