Adding the sweet smells of summer

Fragrance makes a huge difference to the enjoyment and appreciation of our summer garden and to our senses.

Heliotrope is one of the most universal of all the summer blooming plants

Summertime in our gardens, whenever it comes, should be the ultimate outdoor sensory retreat.  The wonderful long evenings on the deck or patio should be the antidote to the stress we all feel during our busy days.  The big question is can our decks, patios and gardens meet the challenge?

Summer colour and how we blend analogous tones together is very important, but fragrance is perhaps the most important when it comes to creating that sensory refill.  Ironically, most of the colour with which we surround ourselves has little perfume.  It’s time to add the fragrance!

As easy as it sounds, finding lasting perfume is more of a challenge than most of us think.  Finding plants that will accommodate sun or shade, be compatible with other plants and continue to perfume all summer is possible, but we all need to think out of the ‘flower box’ just a little.

Heliotrope (Heliotropium arborescens) is one of the most universal of all the summer blooming plants.  However, not all heliotropes are created equal.  Some of the new varieties are far more compact, but have little perfume.  The very best is still the ‘nameless’ old fashioned variety that has that lingering scent of baby powder.  It’s versatile enough to be used in hanging baskets, containers or in bed plantings.  It will, as most heliotrope varieties, do well in shade or sun.  If you need it to be more compact and well behaved, simply pinch it back a few times.  My second favourite variety is ‘Sachet’.  It is a very dark foliaged variety with fragrant deep lavender-purple blooms.  Its rich dark foliage provides wonderful contrast with pink, white or silver flowers and with other foliage.  It’s also a compact grower and well suited to containers and plantings.  ‘Blue Marine’, another compact dark foliaged variety, produces fragrant deep blue flowers about 10cm (4”) across and grows only 25cm (10”) tall and wide. Like ‘Sachet’, it’s a rich deep contrast plant to other colours.

White heliotrope provides slightly less perfume, but its white flowers add a very different look to planters and ground beds.  The blues will always be my favourite, but in the right situation, the old fashioned white varieties can provide quite a classy look.

When folks ask for a flowering shrub that blooms all summer with a nice perfume, one plant leaps ahead of all others  – the Butterfly Bush or buddleia. Native to China, Japan and other parts of Asia as well as Chile, Mexico and the USA, there are at least seven different species, all unique in their own ways. The greatest challenge for many species is their invasive nature and there are now many regions in North America, including British Columbia, Oregon and Washington where gardeners are encouraged not to plant them. The great news is there are now many new varieties which are sterile and do not pose this very important environmental concern.

A Proven Winner introduction Buddleia x ‘Blue Chip’ from the ‘Lo & Behold’ series is the first miniature (24-30”  or 61-76cm) sterile variety. Hardy to zone 5, it requires little pruning or deadheading and blooms and reblooms all summer until frost. Its fragrant lavender-blue flowers add a nice perfume to our gardens and patios all summer and of course, attract both butterflies and hummingbirds. I love the fact it grows well in containers and is a wonderful complement to so many trailing and upright annuals, perennials and vines. ‘Lo & Behold’ was the top buddleia at the RHS Wisley Gardens and won the gold medal at Plantarium in 2009.

Another too often overlooked fragrant plant is Spanish Broom (Spartium junceum).  This tender zone 7 plant needs a protected sunny dry spot, but will bloom with huge fragrant yellow pea-like flowers from early summer through autumn.  It has a wonderful perfume that seems to carry throughout our patios and gardens.  Spartium does very well in containers or in the ground at the edge of patios.  It has virtually no leaves, but its rush-like stems make interesting focal points.  It’s a ‘must have’ plant.

One of the most under used plants for our patios is lavender.  You need a hot sunny spot with very good drainage and a trained sense not to overwater!  The silvery fragrance of lavender is so nice to enjoy all year round, even to brush up against or simply rub your hands over the foliage.  When they bloom with their blue, lavender, pink or white flowers, they put on quite a show.  Today, there are a number of lavender varieties from which to choose.  The hardiest, of course, is the ‘angustifolia’, particularly ‘Munstead’ (zone 5) with its very compact habit.

French Lavender, L. dentate candicans, has become very popular because of not only the fragrant foliage but also the wide range of new flower colours that persist well into the summer.  The sweetest smelling flowers are the English Spike Lavender,

L. latifolia.  It’s hardy to zone 5 and has very fragrant flowers all summer.

My favourite lavender, however, is Spanish Lavender, L. stoechas.  Its huge soft lavender to rich purple blooms are perfumed and so prolific they just keep coming all summer long and even into the fall with a little pruning.  They are the most tender (zone 7), and they need winter protection.  Its flowers are huge and tend to bounce around in the wind like huge purple bumblebees.

Rosemary is another summer patio and garden plant that is not used nearly enough in summer planters and garden beds.  Like lavender, it needs a very sunny, well drained soil to keep looking great and growing well.  Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Tuscan Blue’ is a rigid upright with very aromatic foliage and clear blue flowers that persist into the summer.

If you do a little searching, you’ll discover many more garden jewels that have a delightful summer perfume, like fragrant hostas, perfumed roses, clethra (Summersweet) and summer blooming Jasminum officinale.  Fragrance makes a huge difference to the enjoyment and appreciation of our summer garden and to our senses.  Please try to include even a little fragrance in each bed or container.