What are we looking for when we choose plants for our patios and terraces, or even for our one container outside the front door? Colour, of course, over as long a season as possible and combined with an elegance and style that consistently appeals.
But we’re also looking for fragrance, from the flowers as we pass them by or from the foliage as we brush the leaves. These plants, almost all Award of Garden Merit winners, have all the scent you need. Numbers at the end of each entry detail plant height and RHS hardiness ratings.
Rich, dark chocolate
The daisy-like flowers of the chocolate cosmos, Cosmos atrosanguineus, are not only the colour of dark chocolate but smell of dark chocolate too – they’re one of the very few plants that come with this tempting feature.
These tuberous perennials – they have tubers like those of a small dahlia – flower for many summer months on long waving stems and enjoy rich soil and plenty of sun. They will survive the winter in sheltered sites with good drainage, but emerge unusually late in spring. 60cm. H3.
Many daphnes are scented and some have powerful fragrances that waft around the garden. But in a small space we need a little more than that and Daphne × transatlantica Eternal Fragrance ('Blafra') wins with its unusually long flowering season, blooming well into autumn. Its yellow-eyed, pink-tinted white flowers open not only at the shoot tips but at the leaf joints further back on each shoot. The result is a neat, colourful, slowly expanding dome with months of delightful scent. 75cm. H5.
From the clove-scented pinks of Shakespeare’s time to the richly scented modern hybrids, just about everyone in the country knows pinks and their fragrance. Modern developments have brought us large flowers, a long season, intense colours and superb scent and the British bred Scent First Series is paramount. In ‘Devon Flavia’, one of the best of the series, the 3.5cm flowers are pale sugar pink with pale crimson flashes towards the centre and darken as they mature. The frilled petal tips add instant appeal. 37cm. H6.
Cherry pie with vanilla essence
Sadly, heliotrope is a deeply unfashionable flower. This is odd because I’ve found its powdery vanilla fragrance is strong and dependable – perhaps gardeners are confused by the fact that some of the modern seed-raised varieties have no scent at all. Heliotropium arborescens ‘Chatsworth’, raised from cuttings, is not only much taller and more imposing than seed-raised types, but its pale purple flowers are unusually strongly scented. Some people describe the scent as “cooked cherries”, hence its common name of cherry pie. 1m. H1c.
Sweet pea with a difference
We can hardly discuss scent without including sweet peas and, for fragrance, ‘High Scent’ is the pick. But ‘Solway Snowflake’, and the other seven AGM winners in the Solway Series, are special in that they’re half the height of normal sweet peas. Ideal in a tight space – scrambling over a low fence, tumbling down a bank or spilling out of a large container – ‘Solway Snowflake’ is pure white with a tiny red flash in the upper petals. Lovely, and well scented too. 1m. H2.
We’ve seen so many new lavender varieties arrive in recent years that it can be tough to choose – or perhaps we should simply stick with the old ones? Lavandula angustifolia 'Miss Katherine' is one of the best newcomers. It’s more elegant than many; its grey-green aromatic leaves make a compact evergreen mass and its production of spikes of super-fragrant pink flowers is prodigious. Clip after flowering to help retain its shape. 75m. H5.
Addicted to tobacco
Flowering tobacco, Nicotiana sylvestris, looks superb and smells wonderful. What’s not to like? Well, it can reach 2m in height in rich soil and a sunny site, and its big bold paddle-shaped leaves take up space. But all summer and into autumn its erect stems are topped with generous pendulous clusters of long pure white flowers whose evening fragrance is captivating. Raise from seed, or you can now usually buy plants in garden centres. In sheltered gardens it may even behave as a perennial. 2m. H2.
The first petunias to arrive in Britain from South America in the early 19th century were very fragrant but, as the decades rolled by, developments brought us larger flowers, more varied colours, less straggly growth – but the fragrance became less noticeable. By contrast, just pass by a hanging basket of Petunia Tumbelina Priscilla and you can’t miss the fragrance. This neat, semi-trailing, double-flowered variety with its purple-veined lavender flowers is ideal in a basket as a specimen or mingled with other flowers. 30cm. H1c.
This Victorian favourite, with the most astonishing evening and night-time fragrance, is enjoying a revival – and quite right too. For so long Polianthes tuberosa was grown as a conservatory plant but it’s now appreciated as a lovely plant for a patio container. Upright stems are lined with white waxy flowers in summer, prettily doubled and longer lasting in the variety ‘The Pearl’. Grow as a specimen in a container and, for winter, move the pot into a sheltered place and allow the bulbs to dry out. 1.2m. H2.
Since David Austin’s first rose, ‘Constance Spry’ (1961), fragrance has been a crucial factor his introductions and one of my favourites, for its citrus scent, is Lady Emma Hamilton. Introduced just over 10 years ago, its relatively upright growth carries shining, disease-resistant foliage and is topped by rich, orange-tinted, apricot flowers that don’t open flat but remain what is described as chalice-shaped. With the more lemony shades on the outside of the petals, the harmony of colour tones is lovely. 1.2m. H6.