On fragrance in gardens….

Perfumes are the feelings of flowers, and as the human heart, imagining itself alone and unwatched, feels most deeply in the night-time, so seems it as if the flowers, in musing modesty, await the mantling eventide ere they give themselves up wholly to feeling, and breathe forth their sweetest odours. Flow forth, ye perfumes of my heart, and seek beyond these mountains the dear one of my dreams! ~Heinrich Heine, “The Hartz Journey” (1824), Pictures of Travel, translated from German by Charles Godfrey Leland, 1855

Close your eyes and sit still for a moment and now start imagining your ideal garden….mine has many pathways, with tumbling borders, plants that waft in the breeze and catch the sunlight with their pregnant seed pods, plants that rustle, layered colours and textures, acid yellows, and deep purples set against velveteen grey rabbit eared foliage. There should be water and creatures buzzing, secret places, warmed places and places to hide from the glare of midday sun, its easy to imagine…but what about the smell – what would it smell like?

I’m going to share with you some plants today, that share more than their aesthetic …they share their fragrance.

Those delicious heady scents not only please our sensory self but are vital in enticing their pollinating buddies…insects, bats, birds, butterflies to transfer their pollen and create fertile seeds. When Charles Darwin observed the foot-long tube of a flower in the 1800s, he theorized that a moth with an equally long tongue must also exist that could pollinate the tube. Such a moth was discovered more than a 100 years later.

As well as attracting beneficial relationships smell can also be a deterrent,  the smells that flowers and plants emit can also serve as methods of defense. The sharp, bitter smells that result from leaves and stems that are crushed or pierced are often the result of chemicals that can be toxic to animals. The unpleasant taste will keep them at bay and allow the plants to survive.

Its all pretty amazing isn’t it?

So lets get onto the plants, the stars of the show….I’m going to share with you some of my favourite plants but feel free to share any favourites that you love.

I used to be a bit of a rose fascist but now i have been turned by finding the right ones  for my climate and garden. This was helped for me by finding a specialist Cornish Rose company – i really recommend finding a specialist nursery in your particular area as they will be adapted to growing in your local. I particularly like climbing, rambling and wild roses, and here are some that i like:

Ginger syllabub – Heavy, pendulous, old fashioned blooms that invite you to put your nose in and inhale the heady fragrance.


Jasmina – Violet, cup-shaped blooms in large clusters of 10-15 flowers with a strong, sweet fragrance. Very healthy and quite bushy for a climber.

Zepherine Drouhin – Thornless and repeat flowering with an amazing scent. Requires cooler growing conditions and is ideally suited to shadier sites.

For Cornish inhabitants all the above roses can be bought at – The Cornish Rose Company

One of my favourite climbers, and favourite plants of all time is the wisteria, it almost makes me weep with its heavenly combination of scent and colour.

Wisteria sinesis Black Dragon is a particularly nice variety. A rapidly growing climber for trees, walls,fences and buildings. Mauve delicately scented racemes are produced on bare stems during March and April.

If you want some scented shrubs then there are plenty to choose from. My favourite cent of all is orange blossom, and i often head to the eden project just to inhale their deep scent. We can of course grow citrus in this country but it takes great care, you could instead choose a Mexican Orange Blossom shrub or Choisya ternata instead.

Wonderfully scented, star-shaped, white flowers appear in late spring among glossy, aromatic, dark green leaves. This handsome, compact and easy-to-grow shrub is a valuable garden mainstay for a protected site in sun or part shade, although in shade it may not flower.

Another great shrub is lilac, I’m quite a fan of lilac as a colour as well as the shrub, it’s very restful. There are some great varieties of the Lilac (Syringa vulgaris) plant.

Syringa vulgaris Michel Buchner (Lilac) 1 Plant 9cm Pot

This one is called Michel Buchner, and  has heart shaped leaves when young, and masses of very fragrant long double rose-lilac, white centred flowers in late spring and early summer. This plant can be pruned to take the shape of a tree.

Another stunning scent is that of Daphne and a great variety is Daphne cneorum ‘Eximia’ or Garland flower as its is sometimes known.It is an evergreen, wide-spreading shrub with clusters of fragrant bright pink flowers opening from red buds in spring, occasionally followed by brownish-yellow berries in summer.

Some other recommendations…

Gardenia Kleim’s Hardy (the first hardy gardenia)

Gardenia Kleim's Hardy

The world’s first really hardy Gardenia! Can be grown outside all year round. Gorgeous, exotic-looking, waxy white flowers with an intoxicating scent over glossy dark evergreen foliage. Flowering all Summer long.

Hyssopus officinalis

Hyssopus officinalis

Fully hardy, semi-evergreen shrub with aromatic deep green leaves that can be used in cooking the same way you would Rosemary. They have small bright blue flowers in dense upright spikes from Mid-Summer to early Autumn are extremely attractive to bees and butterflies.

Philadelphus Virginal (mock Orange)

Philadelphus Virginal

A beautiful arching, deciduous shrub.Pure white double flowers are richly fragrant and smother this shrub with blossom throughout the Summer, filling the air with wonderful perfume. Likes some sun.

Phuopsis stylosa ( Caucasian Crosswort)

Phuopsis stylosa

A really good mat-forming ground cover plant for the front of the border or rockery. All parts of this plant are pungent, from the delicate whorls of pale green leaves from Spring onwards, to the dense pom-poms of pale pink, tubular flowers that seat neatly above the foliage from June-September. It prefers a well-drained site in full sun or part shade. Fully hardy, it originates from the Caucasus mountains. An incredibly pretty plant with a vigorous habit.

Of course there are so many more, how could i not include lavenders ( but they deserve their own post) all the spectrum of herbs, stock, sweet peas and the list goes on…

Have you any favourite scented plants you would like to share?

Keri – Humble Cottage xx


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