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Scented plants, flowers & shrubs for a sunny garden

Val Bourne / 23 June 2015 ( 25 July 2017 )

Bring borders, patio containers and bare walls to life with these beautiful scented plant recommendations from gardening expert Val Bourne.

Wild honeysuckle
Wild honeysuckle is particularly fragrant in the evening, when they are pollinated by large moths

If you're looking for scented plants for a sunny garden there are plenty of wonderful options.

Daphnes exude a powerful, heady scent that travels through the garden on warm, still days. Most daphnes bear clusters of blue-pink, reflexed flowers surrounded by tough evergreen foliage. The easiest of all to grow is Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’, spanning roughly five feet across (1.5m x 1m).

If space is tighter opt for D. x transatlantica ‘Eternal Fragrance’, an almost evergreen daphne bearing clusters of pale-pink flowers over many weeks. This rounded daphne makes a fine specimen in a container and both are readily available. Other good spring-scented container plants include biennial wallflowers combined with tulips, lily of the valley or blue hyacinths.

Spring-flowering viburnums are equally fragrant. They include V. carlesii ‘Aurora’, a medium-sized shrub with roundels of lily-scented pale-pink flowers set against grey-green oval leaves. The shinier leafed V. x burkwoodii bears almost white flowers and viburnums, like many shrubs, are happy on clay.

As summer unfurls the lemon-scented flowers of mock orange blend well with roses, but opt for a well-behaved one like Philadelphus ‘Belle Etoile’ because the white flowers have a smudge of blueberry that defines each white flower. Species lilacs are also highly scented and the compact, non-suckering Syringa x meyeri ‘Palibin’ bears pale-pink flowers in June. ‘Miss Kim’ has lilac flowers.

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Clerodendrum trichotomum
Clerodendrum trichotomum

Five scented shrubs

Clerodendrum trichotomum var. fargesii (Harlequin glorybower)

In the second half of summer the white almost spidery flowers of this Chinese tree flower over many weeks. It’s quite possible to have purple buds and turquoise berries surrounded by red sepals, along with flowers, so this is eye catching and highly fragrant. (6m / 20ft)

Buddleia x davidii

On a warm August day the honey-scented buddleia looks and smells wonderful. The large flowers of ‘Pink Delight’ are highly scented show stoppers. Deadhead to encourage more flowers and this will prevent unwanted seedlings. Prune hard in spring. (8ft x 8ft /2.4m x 2.4m)

Choisya ternata (Mexican Orange Blossom)

Happiest in bright shade or full sun, because this evergreen will then flower prolifically in late-spring producing heads of white starry flowers. Cut back after flowering if needed. Needs a sheltered site. Can also be grown in shade for its evergreen foliage, (8ft x 8ft /2.4m x 2.4m)

Peaonia delavayi

This species tree peony is highly scented in May, with a perfume that resembles the freesia. The highly divided foliage is also a feature and flowers vary from red through to brown and muted orange. ( 6-7ft / 2m)

Osmanthus x burwoodii

This dense evergreen shrub produces masses of white flower in spring, delivering a honey and vanilla scent. Best in an open position so that it doesn’t get lanky. Can be shaped and reduced after flowering and it is slow growing. (10ft/ 3m)

Rose 'Claire Austin
Rose 'Claire Austin'

Five highly-scented roses

‘The Generous Gardener’

This medium to tall David Austin rose flowers abundantly, producing pale-pink flowers until late into the year. It’s vigorous and healthy and the strong fragrance is described as old rose. musk and myrrh. )Large wide-spreading shrub rose)

‘Claire Austin’

A white rose of substance that produces cupped, creamy white flowers with a lemon middle. The strong scent is mainly myrrh with dashes of meadowsweet, vanilla and heliotrope. It forms an elegant, arching shrub with plentiful, medium green foliage. Strong and particularly healthy. (5ft x 4ft / 1.5m x 1.2m)

‘Buff Beauty’

The Hybrid Musks, although variable in size and shape, are all highly fragrant. ‘Buff Beauty’ is the most handsome of all, with reddish coppery foliage setting off buff-apricot flowers. The tea rose fragrance is strong, but this rose needs a warm position and sensitive pruning - just tidy in winter. Takes its time to get going. (A large shrub rose with arching wands)

‘Margaret Merril’

This pearl white floribunda, beloved by flower arrangers and growers, smells of citrus and spice. As the flowers mature they develop a pink sheen and the fragrance matures. A wedding favourite (2.5 ft / 75 cm)

Rosa rugosa ‘Roseraie de l’Hay’

Good on poor soil because it’s a rugosa, although not a lover of lime, this large shrub rose has loosely arranged crimson-purple flowers and grass-green foliage. The perfume is rich and it doesn’t produce hips, so no early reminders of autumn.

Lunaria rediviva (perennial honesty)
Lunaria rediviva (perennial honesty)

For the flower border

Paeonia lactiflora ‘Duchesse de Nemours’

Many of the June-flowering lactiflora hybrids are scented, but this one has a light citrus scent and full ivory-white flowers with handsome foliage too. (4ft/ 1.2m)

Sweet peas

Annual sweet peas are mostly highly scented and I can recommend the frilly pink ‘Gwendoline’ as being easy, strong-stemmed, prolific and of course deliciously scented.

Dianthus 'Mrs Sinkins’

Not the tidiest dianthus, but this 19th century white ostrich-feather pink has a cool green hue and a strong clove scent that develops as evening descends. Easy to keep, with a yearly spring trim, and good in a container a-though all pinks need excellent light and drainage. (12 ins/30cm)

Lunaria rediviva

Perennial honesty is not grown widely enough but in May it scents the air in with its silver and mauve flowers - looking almost like Sweet Rocket (Hesperis matronalis) Grow in semi-shade. (just over 3ft/up to 1m)

Matthiola incana ‘Alba’

The white sea stock is almost as fragrant as an oriental lily, with grey-green rosettes of leaf and clean white ‘wallflower’ flowers. It needs a hot, sunny position and the seed heads must be removed before they form, to keep the main plant alive. (3ft/ 90cm)

Find out how to design and plant a herbaceous border

Hedychium gardnerianum (Kahili Ginger)
Hedychium gardnerianum (Kahili Ginger)

Five scented plants for containers

Lilium ‘Casablanca’

Oriental lilies, the most fragrant of all, tend to come in pale colours and ‘Casablanca’ is a classy white with gentle spotting. Great in containers, although prone of lily beetle these days, it must be sited carefully because lily pollen stains the clothing.

Rhododendron ‘Fragrantissimum’

This needs a cold conservatory to overwinter in because it has blowsy white flowers that would get blown to pieces. However the scent is rich and heady and it can be moved outside after flowering.

Heliotrope ‘Lord Robert’s or ‘Chatsworth’

This tender perennial, also known as Cherry Pie, has a fruit fragrance that carries indoors and out. Needs a bit of warmth to survive in winter, in the greenhouse, but the named heritage varieties have more scent than modern ones. (12in/ 30cm)

Cosmos atrosanguineum (Chocolate Cosmos)

A tender tuberous plant that can be lifted like the dahlia, this maroon cosmos smells of chocolate - although you do have to get close. It’s airy and light and a good container specimen, grown in pots on its own. (2ft/60cm)

Hedychium gardnerianum (Kahili Ginger)

This makes a large plant with large canna-like leaves, but in late-summer pale-yellow heads of flower appear, with red filaments that protrude so this looks very exotic. The scent deepens in evening light. Can be grown in the ground in sheltered gardens. (5ft/1.5m)

Clematis armandii 'Apple Blossom
Clematis armandii 'Apple Blossom

Scented climbing plants

Clematis armandii

Almost thuggish in habit, so this needs space on a warm wall, but in spring the starry white flowers look and smell divine. The large evergreen leaves are also feature. Buy in flower if possible as forms differ.

Lonicera periclymenum (wild honeysuckle)

This is our native woodbine and the rhubarb and custard flowers are highly fragrant, particularly in the evening when large moths pollinate them. Good forms include the greyer-leaved yellow-flowered ‘Graham Thomas’, the later-flowering crimson and yellow ‘Serotina’ and ‘Belgica’. Honeysuckles like to climb into the light and do best on moist soil that’s shady, even then they take their time to get established.

Akebia quinata (Chocolate Vine)

Known as the five-leaved akebia, this produces maroon flowers in late-spring and summer and they smell of spice, vanilla and chocolate. Once it’s established, in a warm position, it can be rampant.

Argyrocytisus battandieri ( Pineapple Scented Broom)

This leguminous climber has bright-yellow pea-like flowers that smell of pineapple. The silvery foliage is also a feature, although this does need a warm wall to do well. It’s normally trained on a wall. Left to flow the brittle branches can snap away.

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