Best annuals & perennials for scent
There’s more to garden design than perfect paths and perennial borders. The very best designs include sumptuous scent-scapes too. Grow a mix of both fast-growing annuals and stalwart perennials.
Whether annual or perennial, botanical aromas become amplified if you place plants in a sheltered and confined space, so a courtyard or corner where you spend time is the place to clothe walls with climbers such as hoya, jasmine and wisteria.
For the garden, choose a mix of annuals and perennials. Annuals flower generously, so they’re ideal for picking – and if you keep picking them, the flowers will keep coming. Try sweet peas, stock ( Matthiola incana), Virginia stock ( Malcolmia maritima), snapdragons, ( Antirrhinum majus), heliotropes ( Heliotropium arborescens), tobacco plant (nicotiana), mignonette ( Reseda odorata) and annual phlox ( Phlox drummondii) for delicious scent.
In the perennial stable, there’s a wider choice of fragrant blooms: choisya; daphne; gardenia; deutzia; michelia; magnolia; boronia; rose; skimmia; sweet rocket ( Hesperis matronalis), pictured above; lily of the valley bush ( Pieris japonica); wintersweet ( Chimonanthus praecox); sweet viburnum ( Viburnum odoratissimum); mock orange (Philadelphus); lilac; dianthus; and primula, among others.
Compared to annuals, perennials usually have a shorter bloom time, but with careful selection you can choose perennials with long flowering periods.
A FLOWER FOR SHADE
There are several seed mixes of the tobacco plant ( Nicotiana alata) in colours from blood red to lime green. It’s one of the few annual bedding plants that grows well in shady corners. Sadly, many of the fancy new varieties are diminutive in both size and fragrance. The larger white strains often have the best scent, so keep an eye out for these.
Choose your flowers according to your tastebuds – or your favourite dessert. 1. Chocolate: Plant chocolate-scented blooms for a no-calorie option. Choose the perennial chocolate cosmos ( Cosmos
atrosanguineus), Clematis montana var. wilsonii, Oncidium Sharry Baby 'Sweet Fragrance', and Carolina allspice ( Calycanthus floridus). The latter's flowers and leaves both smell of chocolate. 2. Fruit: If you prefer fruity aromas, grow frangipani, grape hyacinth, magnolia, Hybrid Tea roses and scented geraniums (apple-, lemon- and orange-scented geraniums). Rhododendron luteum has a fruity aroma too. 3. Spice: For a spicy mix, choose carnations and dianthus, certain rhododendrons (try Rhododendron 'Fragrantissimum' and 'Elsie Frye'), stock, and the nutmeg-scented geranium, Pelargonium × fragrans. 4. Honey: Honey scents include barberry, buddleia, meadowsweet, hawthorn and hybrid musk roses. The old-fashioned snapdragons have a sweet floral or honey-like scent too. 5. Or try the bubblegum scented port wine magnolia ( Michelia figo), the vanilla scent of Heliotrope arborescens or the burnt toffee fragrance from the leaves of Cercidiphyllum japonicum.
Stock ( Matthiola incana) is a well-loved annual, grown for its spicy, clove-scented flowers in white, pink, lavender, rose or red. You can buy plants in punnets or as individual potted specimens, depending on how many you want. Or grow from seed. Sow in trays or small pots for transplanting into the garden later on. Plant in a sunny spot in free-draining soil. Stock prefers cooler weather, growing best in spring and autumn; once temperatures hit the 20s, they won't perform as well, or at all. Stock makes an excellent cut flower. Pick for the vase when half the flowers are open.
Some wisterias exude a musky fragrance; others emit a sweet one. Their scent ranges from faint to strong to almost overpowering. Whichever variety you plant, it needs a strong wall or pergola, and sharp shears to keep it under control. Wisteria most often fails to flower because it's too young, it has been pruned too much or too little, or it has been spoilt with nitrogen-rich fertiliser.