In April, my garden is awash with Daffodils and Hellebores, filling the borders with whites, yellows and deep purples.
I love seeing the joyful spring display, and this morning the enticing scent drifting from under the apple trees stopped me in my tracks. The Hyacinth ‘White Pearl’ flowers had opened their towering stacks of heady perfume, some so heavily weighed down with blooms that they bowed slightly to the ground, in gratitude for where they came from, and humility towards where they shall soon return: after I turn them into mulch, which is a great thing to apply now the weather is warming.
Scent may be forgotten when planting up borders on the other side of inaccessible areas on larger properties or busy roadsides, but for most gardens and certainly patios, it has as much impact as colour, texture and form. And flavour, but you can't eat a daffodil, I am afraid to say, even though they would be delicious if you could. The right plants fill your garden with successive waves of fragrance that drive out all nose complaints and lift the spirit from spring through to winter.
If you choose one fragrant plant to flower at a time in a given section, its scent will stand out more. The Hyacinths are queen in my back garden in March and April, and the pot by the front door is full of Jonquil Daffodils (Narcissus ‘Pipit’) with their multi-headed lemon blooms and sweet scent.
Other fragrant beauties for April and May include Lily-of-the-Valley (Convallaria majalis), a toxic, graceful woodland specialist that thrives in moist, rich soils, and the white and purple flowers of biennial Sweet Rocket (Hesperis matronalis), whose superlatively sweet scent fills the evening air, mesmerising the pollinating insects.
Scented climbers give you the goods direct to the nose, at convenient nose height. In April, the pretty flowers of Chocolate Vine (Akebia quinata) give off a delicious vanilla scent; as they fade in May, Wisteria and Honeysuckle take over. The Hall’s Prolific Honeysuckle along my back fence is just opening its tiny tubular blooms now in late March, responding to the demand from fully roused honeybees; it often flowers right through into mid or even late autumn, with some deadheading.
Last summer, Nemesia ‘Easter Bonnet’ self-seeded in a pot on the patio and delighted us from May to October with her fabulous vanilla perfume. This easy bedding plant has small, attractive flowers in creams, whites and purples. Mainly used as an annual for the best show, she is technically a perennial and mine has successfully overwintered in the unheated greenhouse. Planted in pots where you sit or at the front of borders, this little gem will scent the air all summer long.
Climbing Roses such as ‘Aloha’ and ‘Madame Alfred Carriere’ cover walls and outdoor ceilings like arches and arbours with their fragrant blooms; many are repeat flowerers, supplying the scent from mid-summer well into autumn. Sweet Peas (Lathyrus odoratus) squeeze in anywhere and gradually refresh tired soil. There is a wonderful scent on Old Heritage types like ‘King Edward VII’, Heirloom Grandifloras such as ‘Matucana’ and turn of the Old Century Spencer types like ‘White Frills’ and ‘Raspberry Flake’.
Late summer and autumn flowers like Tobacco, Nicotiana sylvestris, really come into their own after the main mid-summer flush. It is easily grown from seed from March to May or bought as a half-hardy annual. Its long white trumpet flowers emit the most wonderful fragrance at dusk, and it thrives in partial shade. Daphne ‘Eternal Fragrance’ churns out soft pink, highly-scented flowers from April until October; semi-evergreen Clematis flammula blooms well into October too, filling the garden with a sweet almond perfume.
There’s something delightful about tracking down a note of sweetness to a modest shrub whose winter scent has taken centre stage in a drab landscape. Christmas Box (Sarcococca confusa) tiny white flowers have a knockout fragrance. Resilient, thriving in shady spots, it is a must-have for a low maintenance winter garden.
Winter honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima) is my favourite scented shrub. My parents had a mature plant in their previous garden at the back of a deep border, so we created a secret path leading into the shrubs to a stone bench. It was a magical place to sit on a sunny January morning and enjoy the delicate honey fragrance.
Whether you favour the sweetness of honeysuckle, the relaxing aroma of Lavender or the intoxicating perfume of an Oriental Lily, with a few fragrant plants and a little planning, it is possible to put your fingers in your ears and stand for a while, imagining that the world is an airy rumbling mass of comfort for weary noses.
Written by: Nic Wilson