Planting for scent in the summer garden

Planting for scent in the summer garden


Posted 15th May 2015


As the gardening season is upon us we spoke with Chelsea award-winning garden designer Kate Gould to find out her top tips for planting for scent

Scent is a highly emotive sense. The scent of sweet peas immediately takes me back to my Nan's garden in Wales in the early 1980s. The smell of fresh grass is the smell of summer and Pittosporum tobira or ‘Mock Orange’ is quite simply the quintessential scent of holidays. You might not know the plant but I bet you know its scent.

It is surprising therefore that we do not plant more for scent in the garden since we can be transported back to a place or time with hopefully happy thoughts and memories at the mere whiff of a rose, honeysuckle or jasmine plant. These particular plants are well known for their scent but there are others too, equally as sweetly scented that flower at different times through the summer and into the autumn. Here are five of the best plants for scent:

Phlox paniculata
This is perhaps one of the best known and loved cottage garden plants and it is absolutely worthy of that title. Highly scented, masses of blooms and a good mid-border stalwart, Phlox is worth its weight in many a garden from July to early November. The older varieties are often plagued with mildew but given a ground that doesn’t dry out too much and a really good mulch and feed in the spring this can usually be avoided or at least averted. For added scented punch combine with Monarda, Nepeta and Hemerocallis lilioasphodelus. There is Phlox to suit all tastes from the blousy Phlox paniculata L. ‘Amethyst’, to the eminently refined and elegant Phlox paniculata ‘David’ with its bright white blooms that shine on a moonlit night.

Rhododendron viscosum
A plant of graceful beauty with delicate white flowers that are scented like cloves and fragrance the air for many metres around. A shady border and acidic soil are its main requirements and given these it will flower in early June with gusto. Acer and Hosta varieties make for pleasing planting companions as does an underskirt of Tiarella ‘Ninja’ with its foamy pink blooms.

Hesperis matronalis
‘Sweet Rocket’ is well named. Its scent is so sweet that some people think it is a little ‘gone over’ but it is another plant that perfumes the air for metres around itself on a warm day and is best towards the evening when it has been warmed by the sun. In full sun or partial shade with moist ground at its roots, its mauve or white flowers brighten a border and combine well with foxgloves and Euphorbia varieties. Hesperis is easily grown from seed although it is biennial, so it will not flower until its second year.

Clematis flammula
This is one of the latest of the flowering clematis, often into early October and one of the best scented; a sort of vanilla meets hedgerow scent – unusual and delightful at the same time. To say that it flowers in abundance is an understatement. It is a plant where you can hardly see the plant for the flowers when it is in full pelt. A clean, bright white on a plant that will happily grow 10-15 feet from May to October, it is one best kept for the back of the border or to grow up something that has past its best by the end of the year. In my garden it festoons a rather sad looking lilac and is grown with graceful grasses and Eupatorium rugosum as an accompaniment, which extend the colour in the garden into October and beyond. Its beautiful silky seed heads are simply an added bonus.

Cercidiphyllum japonicum
Perhaps one out of left field here since it is not flowers but foliage that provide the scent. This doesn’t occur until the heart-shaped green leaves transform into fiery red, gold and purple shades before dropping from the tree in the autumn. It is then that you can be forgiven for thinking that a travelling fair has set up camp in your garden. There is nothing in the plant kingdom that smells quite as much like the burnt sugary scent of candyfloss as a Cercidiphyllum. It is an ephemeral scent as once dropped the leaves have a matter of days before they lose their potency. For best results a mildly acidic soil is required and some shelter from strong winds to allow the tree to reach is eventual height of about 15m.

There are of course many other scented plants to choose from; lavender, rosemary, honeysuckle, tobacco plants, Mirabilis jalapa, Oenothera (evening primrose), Magnolia grandiflora, sweet peas, lilac, stocks, Sweet Williams, all of which are worth a place in the modern garden, no matter how old-fashioned the flower. The different cultural requirements of these plants means that they will need to be sited in different parts of the garden depending on the aspect and climatic conditions. The only condition on your part is to place a seat nearby so you can sit, inhale and enjoy.

By Kate Gould

 





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