Nothing lifts the soul like a waft of a delicious scent in the garden at this time of year particularly so in the bitterly cold days we have all experienced this past week. Wandering round the garden eagerly looking for signs of snowdrops exploding from the earth I was assailed by heavenly scents in several places. Not nearly enough thought goes into planning for scent in gardens. After all scent is vital for attracting pollinating insects. In the summer it is thrilling to see a haze of insects hovering around a plant such as a nepeta but one rather takes them for granted. In the winter it is another story all together. No wonder winter scent is so often thrillingly heady. Little insects must have to work all the harder to find flowers.
One can spend hours pouring over seed and plant catalogues or trailing through the internet deliberating over what plants to buy but I am sure I am not alone in admitting that regrettably I hardly ever consider if the plant I covet has a fine scent or not. The one exception being Nicotiana sylvestris which is a wonderful source of height in a border (plants can reach 5ft) and scent. Being a white flowered plant it is a particularly good choice for including in a spot where one might enjoy a glass of wine to two in the gloaming of a summer’s evening.
For several months now the delicate fragrance of coronilla glauca ‘Citrina‘ has permeated the rock garden heightening the pleasure of strolling around it even on an extraordinarily cold day. Dotted all over the rock garden, it is an attractive, easy to grow plant with pale yellow flowers and bluey green leaves. It would work equally well in a small garden. How I wish more yellow flowers associated with spring were of a similar hue not like those ubiquitous strident yellow daffodils. In recent weeks the unassuming little shrub sarcococca confusa has burst into flower adding its powerful scent to the heady mix of perfumes.
As Lucy Adams, our Head Gardener (@dodheadgardener) said to me the other day (and whose idea it was to write about winter scent) ‘It is an unexpected bonus in the dank days of winter to suddenly catch a whiff of an enticing scent. It lifts the spirits’. People write endlessly about winter structure in the garden but not enough about winter scent. The exception is Stephen Lacey whose new book ‘Scent in Your Garden’ published by www.franceslincoln.co.uk describes nearly 1,000 scented plants. Described as a ‘scentophile’ in a review of the book by Mark Diacono, Lacey says ‘For me the best reason to grow a plant is its smell. Scent makes connections with people in so many different ways – it switches on lights from your past, drawing forward little memories’. How right he is.
I was first struck by how effective the sweet clove like smell of Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill’ is a few years ago as I wandered around the woodland area of www.goodnestoneparkgardens.co.uk near Wingham, Kent. One can smell a daphne from quite a distance, it is not one of those shy plants which require pushing one’s nose right into the flower to find its perfume. An evergreen shrub with dark green leaves, the dark raspberry coloured buds slowly open to pale pink/white flowers inside. So far we only have one in the woodland garden here but we should emulate Goodnestone and plant several so that one is wafted through the woodland feasting on the emerging buds of the camellias, rhododendrons accompanied by the intense daphne fragrance. Happily we do have another one in the rock garden.
The other scented plant in the woodland is that tough old boot plant Mahonia japonica -strange for its jagged glossy green leaves and also strange for the yellow egg yolk coloured wood (if one chops through a stem). I like it best for its superb autumn colour but it has a refreshingly clean lemony scent akin to lily of the valley which one longs to find encapsulated in a range of bath products, soaps, essences and the like.
All gardeners should now make a New Year’s resolution albeit a few weeks late to ‘garden with scent’. Just buy Stephen Lacey’s book, of course from an independent bookshop if possible and off you go. Have fun.