In summer, and in sunny situations in particular, scented leaves add a whole new dimension to gardens, says Graham Rice
The aromatic oils in foliage are released most powerfully when the plants benefit from hot, sunny situations - and that tells us the best planting places for most of these plants. All enjoy sunny conditions, many appreciate well-drained soil and if we plant them close to paths and patios we can bruise or crush the leaves as we pass to enjoy their many scents.
See below for a selection of RHS Award of Garden Merit-winning shrubs with fragrant foliage, as selected by plantsman Graham Rice. Numbers at the end of each description refer to the plant's hardiness rating.
One of the most widely-grown silver foliage plants, both in sunny borders and in containers, is Artemisia ‘Powis Castle’. Developing into a dense and bushy shrub, it makes a delightful specimen in smaller plantings, a good 'mixer' in more expansive situations and an excellent companion in large containers. The leaves are split, and split again, into lovely slender slivers and plants rarely produce their unremarkable flowers. 60cm (2ft). H3.
Flower and foliage
Caryopteris × clandonensis is an invaluable and easy-to-grow small shrub, and in some ways ‘First Choice’ is similar to other cultivars: the foliage is grey-green above, silvery green below and with an aroma reminiscent of eucalyptus or pine. But in ‘First Choice’, developed by Hampshire plant breeder Peter Catt, the buds are an unusually deep blue-black and open to tiers of rich blue flowers in August and September. 1m (3ft). H5.
Nasty or nice?
The smell of the foliage of Clerodendrum trichotomum var. fargesii receives mixed reviews. Some describe it as “unpleasant” or even “malodorous” but, on the other hand, I think that the occasional common name of peanut butter tree gives a better indication of its intriguing aroma. In addition there is bronzed young growth, and masses of white, sweetly scented late summer flowers followed by bright blue berries. 3m (10ft). H4.
When two different species, with different features, are brought together by hybridisation sometimes we’re fortunate in that the resulting plant brings us the best of both. Here, the hardiness of Lavandula angustifolia and the highly-silvered foliage and more colourful purple flowers of. L. lanata come together in L. × chaytoriae ‘Richard Gray’, whose foliage also features a rich lavender perfume. 45cm (18in) or more. H4.
Every part of the myrtle is fragrant and it was once believed to have magical properties and was associated with Aphrodite and Venus, the goddesses of love. Myrtus communis subsp. tarentina is a smaller type, making a neat, glossy leaved, evergreen shrub with smaller leaves than usual revealing the pink tinted white autumn flowers and white berries more clearly. Ideal in tubs. 1m (3ft). H4.
Sage and lavender in one plant
In August and September, Perovskia ‘Blue Spire’ is a real star. Since spring, its upright grey-felted stems have been developing and carrying deeply and finely divided grey foliage which is a treat in itself. Then well-branched heads of small lavender blue flowers develop creating a perfect combination with the foliage. And the aroma? A blend of lavender and sage. 1m (3ft). H5.
The name gives you the clue. The neat, wedge shaped, evergreen leaves of the Australian Prostanthera cuneata have a striking minty aroma. Best on a cosy sheltered wall, or in a pot and moved into the conservatory for the winter, its prettily patterned white flowers are like small violas and open on the dwarf, bushy plants in late spring. 1m (3ft). H4.
Never-fails flowering shrub
The flowering currant, Ribes sanguineum, is the most dependably prolific of spring-flowering shrubs. And while the smell of the flowers is not attractive, the crushed foliage has a distinctive and much more appealing fragrance. White Icicle ('Ubric') opens earlier than most, is less vigorous than most and has impressively long strings of pure white flowers with no hints of pink, creating a very clean look. 1.8m (6ft). H6.
Perhaps surprisingly there are relatively few cultivars of culinary sage but for foliage effect Salvia officinalis ‘Berggarten’ is the star. Producing very few flower spikes to detract from the attractive leaves, each leaf is unusually broad and comes in a lovely silvery-grey colouring. Making a rounded dome, ‘Berggarten’ provides plenty of leaves for the kitchen and is an effective small specimen shrub in a sunny place. 60cm (2ft). H4.
Harmony of colours
The appeal of santolinas, the cotton lavenders, lies in their finely-dissected foliage, the distinctive scent of their leaves and the pretty, long stemmed, button-like flowers. In Santolina rosmarinifolia subsp. rosmarinifolia ‘Primrose Gem’ the leaves are an unusually bright green while the mass of flowers are delightful primrose yellow – all held on a twiggy little shrub that responds well to annual spring pruning. 60cm (2ft). H5.