Gardening: What to choose and how to plant for a beautifully scented garden

Tobacco flowers in bloom

Tobacco flowers in bloom - Credit: Archant

Stepping out onto the patio to be engulfed in waves of different fragrances is one of the most glorious sensations of summer.


Philadelphus - Credit: Archant

Of course, there are the obvious candidates among the annuals - pots of night-scented stocks, traditional nicotiana (tobacco plants), vanilla-scented heliotrope with its violet or white blooms, blue-vein surfinia and night phlox.

For tall accents, plant old-fashioned highly scented varieties of sweet pea, Lathyrus odoratus, in a deep pot to climb a wigwam of bamboo canes and provide fantastic scented blooms for cut flowers, so you can have fragrance inside and out. You need to cut sweet pea flowers regularly to keep them coming, or they will just set seed, which tells the plant the flowering period’s over.

All can be planted in pots to waft their delicious aromas around the patio for you and your guests to inhale, but if you have beds or borders close by, you can also make the most of those with more permanent plantings.

Make a low border out of dwarf lavenders such as ‘Munstead’, whose purple flowers will be a magnet to bees and will keep narrow beds looking neat. They’re easy to maintain and should flower throughout summer. Just prune them after flowering to keep them tidy, but don’t cut back into old wood or they won’t recover.

Among my favourite shrubs is mock orange (Philadelphus), which, although not a classic climber, will grow up against trellis and fences, producing delicate white flowers in early summer which should fill even a large garden with fragrance.

This deciduous shrub looks lovely in the border, used in groups as screening or simply as a stand-alone specimen plant. It even makes excellent cut flowers indoors.

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Roses can also add scent to a patio, although if you want to put them in a pot, make it a big one, as their roots like to spread out. Alternatively, plant roses in a bed near the patio. You can’t go far wrong with David Austin English Roses such as the deep pink Gertrude Jekyll, or try a new pure white variety, Desdemona (

Honeysuckle and jasmine can also be grown to climb up trellis or create colour and fragrance trained on pergolas and arbours or around garden seating areas.

When planting, consider where you are going to put your scented specimens. It’s no use planting a rose at the end of your garden if the only time you’re ever going to sniff it is when you’re weeding that area.

Take into account where you’re likely to be seated at particular times of day too, and consider plant height. It may be that simply securing a couple of pots at nose height on your outside wall, filled with aromatic plants, works best.

Fragrant bulbs, such as lilies, freesias and some begonias including Begonia ‘Fragrant Falls Improved’, can also be grown in pots.

Of course, fragrance isn’t limited to flowers. Scented leaf geraniums, fragrant-leaved herbs, like thyme and mint, and shrubs including cotton lavender (Santolina) and myrtle, all give off rich fragrances. Plant shrubs with aromatic foliage close to a path or seating area in full sun.

Ground-hugging thymes can be planted in cracks between paving; when lightly crushed underfoot their scent will be released. Brushing against aromatic leaves also releases their fragrance, while light rain can also bring out the scent of some shrubs.