The fragrant garden

Fragrance in the garden is traditionally associated with roses or lavenders. Their lingering scent is intoxicating and evokes memories of childhood, pleasant encounters or places that you may have visited. Whenever I smell Salvia sclarea, I go ‘back’  back to Provence where the hill sides are covered in a haze of pink and the air is pregnant with the musky perfume of these plants.  Zimbabwe creeper (Podranea ricasoliana) with it’s raw chemical smell,  takes me back to very early childhood when my brother just started driving a car.  He proceeded to take out one of the wooden poles of the carport that was covered with this creeper. The entire construction collapsed, the creeper was destroyed and air reeked of a pungent smell for hours.

Fields of Salvia sclarea in the south of France. Photo: Esther
Fields of Salvia sclarea in the south of France.
Photo: Esther

Fragrance in the garden is romantic, it is welcoming and soothing to the soul.  With a little planning you can have a scented garden year round. Be cautioned – some people are allergic to Liliums, Ligustrum, & Honeysuckle, the latter two are now on the alien invader list, so if you do have them in your garden, please remove and destroy them.


Jasminum polyanthum heralds the  first hint that that spring is approaching. The heady perfume is at the strongest at midday.  It gets a bit messy as it gets older, so cut back after flowering to rejuvenate new growth. It does best in full sun.

Yesterday Today and Tomorrow (Brunfelsia pauciflora)   with its lovely shades of mauve flowers likes a semi-shade position.  Look out for the first signs of yellowing of leaves that signifies a mineral deficiency.

Mock orange
Mock orange

Philadephus  (mock orange) does well in semi shade. As soon as the shrub has finished flowering, cut out all of the stems which have just flowered. Prune them back to around a third of their length. They will soon start to produce new stems which will provide the flowering stems for next year.

Murraya exotica has a fairly long flowering season, and responds well to clipping into a hedge or topiary.

Lavenders are always a delight in any garden.  Choose the smaller varieties;  L angustifolia gets too big and becomes woody after a year.

Heliotropes not only provide you with a wonderful scent, but are also a source of food for bees and butterflies. Pinch out the spent flowers regularly to encourage more new growth.  Cut back once a year.

Star jasmine (Trachylospermum jasminoides) is probably one of the best creepers around.  It can be clipped into a hedge or trained as a pillar, and  does equally well as a container plant. In shady areas it tends to get sooty mould:  spraying with a mixture of Oleum and Sunlight liquid will solve the problem.

And then of course roses – the old time favourites  are the best for fragrance. Modern rose breeders have successfully introduced new cultivars that are repeat flowerers, strong growers and have a strong fragrance.

Clivias are not only beautiful flowers for the shade, they also have the most subtle fragrance.

If you are an  ’indigenous convert’ try to get hold of Buddleja auriculata, (mine is flowering at the moment, the fragrance is warm and musky) Freesia alba, Jasminum multipartitum, Gardenia thunbergia, and Agathosma species, they are all wonderful plants to have in the garden.

Text: Esther Townsend