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Scented plants

Plants for year-round fragrance

Dwarf sunflower Solar Flash seen through pale lavender
Dwarf sunflower Solar Flash seen through pale lavender

There is nothing quite like opening your back door and being hit by a wall of scent – that’s the beauty of growing strongly-perfumed plants where they’ll have maximum impact.

In this case, it’s jasmine Clotted Cream in a large container at the conservatory door – even better when the overpoweringly good tuberose flowers inside at the same time.

Rose Desdemona
Rose Desdemona

Scent is so often overlooked in gardens, yet it does so much to improve the mood and calm the mind. Herb, cottage and Mediterranean-style gardens are the obvious examples including fragrance, mainly from aromatic leaves and old varieties, such as lavender or roses.

I don’t consciously think about designing with scent, apart from the obvious – place fragrant plants near doorways, paths, sitting areas, etc, so you can smell them easily.

Here, I’ve outlined the plants I use (or have grown in the past), then listed recommended varieties I’d like to grow by season. Fragrance is a powerful ally to have in the winter garden and the one most usually overlooked.

My favourite fragrant plants

Scented geranium Angel's Perfume
Scented geranium Angel’s Perfume

Scented-leaved geraniums (Pelargonium odorata): Attar of Roses is an old variety from 1900, which smells like Turkish Delight, as is Clorinda, introduced in 1907, with large rose-pink flowers and cedar-scented leaves. Newer varieties include Angel’s Perfume, a combination of angel pelargoniums with a lemon aroma, Cola Bottles Torento, with gingery cola foliage scent and Lemon (Citriodorum), which has a zesty lemon aroma. More on geraniums here.

Jasmine Clotted Cream (Jasminum officinale): A cream form of the common jasmine, but with larger flowers and even more fragrance. it’s supposed to need winter protection but has survived for a few years in a large pot in a sheltered position.

Sweet pea Cupani
Sweet pea Cupani – the best scent of them all, in my humble opinion

Tuberose (Polianthes tuberosa): Mexican bulb producing spikes of creamy-white flowers, with the strongest scent of anything I’ve grown. It’s in the conservatory and when in bloom, a wall of scent hits you when you open the door. More on tuberoses here.

Sweet peas: So many good varieties but the best for fragrance that I’ve grown are the mixtures Fragrantissima and Old Spice and the heritage variety Cupani. This has smaller blooms but in an intense purple/burgundy red. See here for its history.

Bronze fennel: A herb with strongly-scented filigree aniseed foliage. A delight to let set seed around the garden – great contrast to almost everything. More on herbs here.

Sweet rocket
Sweet rocket – both the white form and the lilac one hiding in the background

Sweet rocket: Another self-seeder which predates me in the garden. Lilac and white sweet-smelling biennial in early summer – when blooms are going over, I leave a couple to seed for next year. More on biennials here.

Roses: Desdemona has an intense myrrh fragrance; climber James Galway has a traditional old rose perfume (also good in shade) and climber Claire Austin smells of myrrh, meadowsweet, and vanilla. More on roses here.

Tulips: Early scent comes in the form of species tulip Tulipa tarda (white and yellow), orange/purple Prinses Irene and yellow Yokohama. More on tulips here.

Daffodils: I only grow perfumed varieties – Minnow, Pacific Coast, Tete a Tete, Thalia, and Sundisc – my favourite for scent is Sweetness. More on daffodils here.

Daffodil Sweetness

Lavender: A large Hidcote lives by the path, meaning you can’t help brush past it, releasing the scent – and bees, unfortunately. More on herbs here.

Rosemary: Another shrubby herb, provides great structure in winter plus year-round aromatic foliage. More on herbs here.

Buddleja: I have several B. davidii (the big, common ones) and dwarf Buzz varieties – both have a honey fragrance and are excellent for pollinators. More plants for pollinators here.

Golden mock orange (Philadelphus coronarius Aureus): This deciduous shrub has bright yellow leaves in spring, followed by creamy-white, scented flowers, in early summer. It withstands some shade and bullying.

Hall’s Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica Halliana): Part-evergreen honeysuckle with white, fading to yellow scented blooms in summer. More on climbers here.

Scented plants by season: winter

Daphne mezereum variegata rubra. Picture courtesy of Bill Docherty's Plants
Daphne mezereum variegata rubra. Picture; Bill Docherty’s Plants

Wintersweet (Chimonanthus praecox syn. Fragrans): Highly scented yellow flowers with a purple centre on bare stems. C. praecox Grandiflorus has larger pendant yellow flowers, with a red stain, 2.5-4m.

Daphne: Many of this genus are highly scented, flowering in winter/spring. D. bholua Jacqueline Postil has highly fragrant flowers in late winter, deep pink outside and white inside, 2-4m; D. laureola (spurge laurel) is an evergreen with pale green scented flowers in late winter/early spring, followed by black fruit, 1m; D. mezereum (mezereon) is deciduous with fragrant pink flowers in late winter, followed by red fruit, 1.2m.

Sweet box (Sarcococca confusa): Evergreen shrub with inconspicuous, very sweetly scented, creamy-white flowers, followed by glossy black berries, 2m.

Winter honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima): Deciduous shrub with very fragrant, cream flowers 1cm long in winter and early spring, followed by dull red berries, 2m.

Chinese witch hazel, Winterbloom (Hamamelis mollis): Citron-yellow, highly perfumed flowers. Also Hamamelis x intermedia Aurora, which has a branching, open shape, large orange flowers and a strong freesia scent, 3-4m.

Giant snowdrop (Galanthus S. Arnott): a honey-scented hybrid with single flowers.

Viburnum x bodnantense Charles Lamont: Silver-pink fragrant flowers on bare wood, 3-4.5m.

Iris unguicularis: In a hot spot, flowers randomly from November-March, 50cm.

Scented plants: spring

Choisya ternata Sundance. Picture; Bill Docherty’s Plants

Azalea (Rhododendron luteum): honeysuckle yellow blooms, best scented deciduous azalea, 2.5-4m.

Species tulips: Tulipa turkestanica (creamy white), Tulipa urumiensis (yellow) and Tulipa whittallii (bronze orange) have a spicy scent.

Hybrid tulips: Double early tulip Monte Carlo (yellow) flowers at the beginning of April and has a honey scent. Ad Rem (orange), Apeldoorn (red) and Golden Apeldoorn (yellow) have a sweet, heavy scent. Double late tulip Angélique (creamy white with pink) has a subtle, fresh and sweet scent and Orange Princess (orange) is honey-scented. Ballerina (warm orange) has a heavy perfume.

Wisteria: W. sinensis produces strongly perfumed flowers before the leaves appear in spring, and has stems that twine anticlockwise, up to 10m.

Daphne: D. cneorum Exima has scented rose pink flowers in April and May, 20cm, spread up to 2m; D. odora Aureomarginata has two-tone lilac and rose-pink flowers with a carrying scent, 1-1.2m.

Tulip tarda
Species tulip T. tarda doesn’t continually need replacing, as it naturalises well and is scented

Mexican orange blossom (Choisya ternata): Pure white orange blossom; heavily scented, from April-June, 1.5-2.5m.

Lilac (Syringa meyeri Palibin): Palibin is compact, with lilac-pink long-tubed flowers, 1-5m.

Wallflowers (Erysimum cheiri Vulcan): Formerly Cheiranthus, the reds, and oranges of this biennial have a strong scent, 40cm.

Perennial honesty (Lunaria rediviva): Violet buds that open to blue-lilac, 1.2m.

Azara microphylla: Wall shrub with tiny, yellow flowers with a vanilla scent, 5-6m.

Scented plants: summer

Old-fashioned pinks have a delightful perfume. Picture; Bill Docherty’s Plants

Roses: Everyone has their favourites but these five come out consistently in polls – Louise Odier (pink Bourbon); Madame Isaac Pereire (red/pink Bourbon); De Resht (crimson/pink Damask); Professeur Emile Perrot (old pink Damask, lemon scent); Jude the Obscure (amber/yellow).

Star jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides): Broad evergreen leaves and fragrant white flowers, 6-9m.

Waxflower (Stephanotis floribunda): Heavily jasmine-scented long white tubular flowers for the conservatory, 3-6m.

Magnolia grandiflora Exmouth: An evergreen magnolia with huge citrus-scented flowers, 10m.

Curry plant (Helichrysum italicum subsp. serotinum): Strong aromatic leaves and yellow flowers from summer to autumn, 0.5m.

The chocolate flower – Cosmos atrosanguineus. Picture; Harperley Hall Farm Nurseries

Gardenia jasminoides (syn. Floribunda): acid-soil-loving conservatory plant with creamy-white heavily jasmine-scented camellia-like flowers, 2m.

Clematis montana var. wilsonii: the best fragrance of the montanas, flowering in late May and early June, 3m.

Carnations and pinks: Dianthus Mrs Sinkins has white flowers tinged in green, 30cm.

Border phlox (Phlox paniculata): Border phloxes have a sweet perfume but need good moisture and soil, 90cm.

Tobacco plant (Nicotiana sylvestris): White, night-scented tobacco plant has long-tubed flowers designed to attract moths, 1.5m.

Curry plant
Curry plant. Picture; Bill Docherty’s Plants

Lilium Muscadet: Oriental lily with white, subtly spotted flowers in mid-pink and a strong perfume, 1.2m.

Honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum): Graham Thomas has creamy-white flowers that age to orange. The scent is stronger at night, 2.4m.

Chocolate flower (Cosmos atrosanguineus): The scent of cocoa powder gets stronger by afternoon. Treat tubers like a dahlia, 90cm.

Cotton lavender (Santolina rosmarinifolia): Spreading evergreen, with finely dissected aromatic leaves and bright yellow flower heads in midsummer, 60cm.

Lemon verbena (Aloysia citriodora): Deciduous sub-shrub to 2.5m in height, with strongly lemon-scented leaves and tiny white or pale lilac flowers, 2.5m.

Scented plants: autumn

Check out the late summer recommendations, as these flowering seasons overlap.

Clematis heracleifolia Cassandra: Striking blue flowers – no staking needed, 1.2m.

Korean spice viburnum (Viburnum carlesii): Buds pink, opening white, very scented, 2.5m.

Actaea simplex (Atropurpurea Group) James Compton: Spires of white flowers, the most fragrant of the dark-leaved bugbanes, 1.2m.