The Scented Garden, Part One: Spring

Floral fragrance is an invisible, but lovely characteristic that adds another layer of pleasure to the joy of flowering plants. Because our sense of smell is innately connected to emotion and memory, the slightest scent can transport us to another time and place, more readily than any music or prose. When it comes to fragrant flora, our acute sensitivity is linked to an early safety feature for hunter gatherers; now it is a lovely gift that heightens enjoyment of the garden across four seasons.

Part 1, Spring

The arrival of long-awaited spring is good for the olfactory senses, ‘we can feel it in the air’. Early in the year there are fewer pollinating insects, and the plants work hard to attract their attention. Highly scented shrubs excel particularly in delighting gardeners and are essential for these awakening pollinators.

Scented Shrubs

The aroma from the pretty floral pom poms of the Arrowood family, notably Viburnums carlesii and carlcephalum, stops you in your tracks; trumpet-shaped flowers of the evergreen Osmanthus delavayii and, again burkwoodii, emit a heavenly scent. Plant a variety of starry Choisya, for example White Dazzler, in an enclosed area and the effect becomes intoxicating. Lilac, Syringa Boomerang Pink Perfume, for example, will astound in late spring as will the sweet, almost coconutty scent from the pea-like flowers of the deciduous Broom family, Cytisus praecox Allgold or Albus.

Vertical fragrance

There are wonderfully scented early climbers. Clematis montana Rubens and Mayleen create a pink-petalled wall of fragrance, especially valuable near a doorway or window. Less potent but subtly delicious are the chocolate-scented flowers of the evergreen Akebia quintata.

Herbaceous scents

Scented perennials overwhelm summer borders but there are notable early exceptions: hardy wallflower: Erysimum Bowles Mauve, which flowers indefatigably and sweetly. In May the heads of Bearded Iris appear from the border and varieties such as Rajah are wonderfully scented. Colonising shady ground is the native Lily of the Valley, Convollaria majalis, whose sweetly fragranced bells evocate the English Country Garden in late spring.