Scent to please!

Written by Emma Heard – Bernaville Nurseries


Fragrant and aromatic plants can add a whole new dimension of pleasure to your garden. An unexpected whiff of a flowers sweet perfume can lift your spirits, stir emotions and bring back memories.

 A fragrant garden can play many roles. Firstly, it can alter emotions, potentially reducing depression and/or anxiety, while improving the quality of life. For many people, a purposeful combination of aromatic plants can bring peace and relaxation. This is especially true when scented plants are placed by a patio or grouped by a seat where they can be quietly enjoyed.

Even a small-sized fragrant garden can have a big impact. Planting scented plants along a walkway, as people brush along them, the scented plants release their aromas by surprise, making for a powerful experience. If you want a garden that smells as good as it looks, incorporate fragrant plants in as many places as possible; in pots besides your front door, in beds and borders and planters on your patio.

If you are looking to create a scented garden it is key to avoid focusing on just the scent element, this can lead to a garden without the right balance of shapes, texture and colours. You need a mixture of the two basic groups of scented plants – flowering and foliage – to bring out the best of the garden.

Cultures throughout the world use fragrance to promote physical and mental wellbeing. These scents are often grouped by their common properties, and using these fragrance profiles can be helpful when designing your own fragrant garden.

Fresh: Zesty perfumes that stimulate and refresh. Plants such as Lavender, Mint and Citrus.

Spicy: Deep, musky scents that are slow and sensual. Plants such as Rose, Carnations and Sage.

Woodsy: Perfumes that promote mental activity. Plants such as Rosemary, Balsalm and Cedar.

Floral: Sweet, heady perfumes that promote relaxation. Plants such as Oriental Lilies, Jasmine, Gardenia, Peonies and Lily of the Valley.

Flower scents linger longest in cool, moist conditions, where the air is still, which is why you notice them most in the evenings. Locate these plants, such as Nicotiana (tobacco plants), where you can enjoy them on a warm summers evening. It pays to keep scents separated, some can certainly clash, so when taking a walk, it’s far more agreeable to move from an easily identified patch of Lavender or pinks to a rose bed and on to a collection of herbs with a slight space between.

When sited close to the house, a fragrant garden can also provide a beautiful transition between interior and exterior spaces. The garden’s proximity to the home not only makes harvesting plants easy; it allows their aromas to lift up and carry indoors. Herbs are the ideal choice. If you don’t have a border near the back door then grow your herbs in pots or window boxes so they are within easy picking distance. Herbs respond well to being picked regularly and can be the star of the scented garden.

There was a time when the garden was a place that smelled as good as it looked. However as plant researchers worked to create larger, more colourful, and more varied flower hybrids, they seem to have done so at the expense of these old-fashioned sweet smells. Many hybrid flowers have little or no scent compared to the original species. There are still a few of the old favourites around to keep an eye out for;

Dianthus (Pinks) are an family favourite grown for their pink, white or red spicy, fragrant blooms. The blooms of Pinks have a delicacy and yet still have substance, while the perfume they possess can be quite heady; filling the warm summer’s air with the scent of cloves.

Honeysuckle Lonicera periclymenum ‘Graham Thomas’ with its grey-leaved foliage and creamy-lemon/white flowers that age pumpkin-orange is a magnet for wildlife: butterflies and moths are attracted to the slender, tubular, fragrant flowers that are at their best in full-sun, particularly in the evening.

Old-fashioned varieties of roses such as Tuscany Superb, Rosa mundi, Queen of Denmark and Mme Isaac Pereire provide the most heady fragrance of summer.

Bloom times for fragrant plants

January – Chimonathus praecox, Paperwhites.

February – Jasminum nudiflorum, Sarcococca confusa, Daphne mezereum.

March – Viburnum bodnantense, forced Hyacinths, Daffodils.

April – Viburnum x burkwoodii

May – Syringa vulgaris (Lilacs), Viburnum carlesii.

June – Lonicera (Honeysuckle), Philadelphus.

July – Roses, Lavender, Nepeta, Oriental Lilies.

August – Pelargoniums, Rosemary, Thyme.

September – Monarda, Phlox, Salvia.

October – Agastaches, Daphne ‘Eternal Fragrance’

November – Eleagnus x ebbingei, Mahonias.

December – Chimonathus praecox, Sarcococca confusa