Balmy summer nights on the patio can be enhanced with fabulously fragrant plants. Hannah Stephenson sniffs out her favourites…
Stepping out onto the patio to be engulfed in waves of different fragrances is one of the most glorious sensations of summer.
Of course, there are the obvious candidates among the annuals – pots of night-scented stocks, traditional nicotiana (tobacco plants), vanilla-scented heliotrope with its violet or white blooms, blue-vein surfinia and night phlox.
For tall accents, plant old-fashioned highly scented varieties of sweet pea, Lathyrus odoratus, in a deep pot to climb a wigwam of bamboo canes and provide fantastic scented blooms for cut flowers, so you can have fragrance inside and out. You need to cut sweet pea flowers regularly to keep them coming, or they will just set seed, which tells the plant the flowering period’s over.
All can be planted in pots to waft their delicious aromas around the patio for you and your guests to inhale, but if you have beds or borders close by, you can also make the most of those with more permanent plantings.
Make a low border out of dwarf lavenders such as ‘Munstead’, whose purple flowers will be a magnet to bees and will keep narrow beds looking neat. They’re easy to maintain and should flower throughout summer. Just prune them after flowering to keep them tidy, but don’t cut back into old wood or they won’t recover.
Among my favourite shrubs is mock orange (Philadelphus), which, although not a classic climber, will grow up against trellis and fences, producing delicate white flowers in early summer which should fill even a large garden with fragrance.
This deciduous shrub looks lovely in the border, used in groups as screening or simply as a stand-alone specimen plant. It even makes excellent cut flowers indoors.
Roses can also add scent to a patio, although if you want to put them in a pot, make it a big one, as their roots like to spread out. Alternatively, plant roses in a bed near the patio. You can’t go far wrong with David Austin English Roses such as the deep pink Gertrude Jekyll, or try a new pure white variety, Desdemona (davidaustinroses.co.uk).
Honeysuckle and jasmine can also be grown to climb up trellis or create colour and fragrance trained on pergolas and arbours or around garden seating areas.
When planting, consider where you are going to put your scented specimens. It’s no use planting a rose at the end of your garden if the only time you’re ever going to sniff it is when you’re weeding that area.
Take into account where you’re likely to be seated at particular times of day too, and consider plant height. It may be that simply securing a couple of pots at nose height on your outside wall, filled with aromatic plants, works best.
Fragrant bulbs, such as lilies, freesias and some begonias including Begonia ‘Fragrant Falls Improved’, can also be grown in pots.
Of course, fragrance isn’t limited to flowers. Scented leaf geraniums, fragrant-leaved herbs, like thyme and mint, and shrubs including cotton lavender (Santolina) and myrtle, all give off rich fragrances. Plant shrubs with aromatic foliage close to a path or seating area in full sun.
Ground-hugging thymes can be planted in cracks between paving; when lightly crushed underfoot their scent will be released. Brushing against aromatic leaves also releases their fragrance, while light rain can also bring out the scent of some shrubs.
Best of the Bunch
This reliable, easy-to-grow perennial with deeply lobed leaves produces long stems of pink flowerheads in summer. They may not be the focal point of the mixed border but they are a great supporting cast, growing to around 60cm, with their pincushion flowerheads. Good varieties include A. ‘Hadspen Blood’, which produces loose heads of dark red flowers in summer, and A. major ‘Shaggy’, with its clusters of tiny cream flowers surrounded by green-tipped white bracts. Plant in moist, well-drained soil and lift and divide in autumn or spring.
Good Enough to Eat
How to reap a rich harvest of peas
If you want delicious peas straight from the pod throughout summer, you need to sow maincrop and mangetout varieties a couple of times in spring, and early kinds every three weeks for succession.
For the best results, sow peas into deeply dug, well-manured ground and spread lime on the surface if the soil is acid. Net the area to stop birds and add supports when the first tendrils appear. Unless you’re growing dwarf cultivars, peas need bamboo canes and netting to scramble up.
Round peas tend to be hardier than wrinkled varieties. When they start to flower, water them well and add a mulch around the base of the plants to conserve moisture.
For the earliest crops, start hardy varieties outdoors in late winter under cloches or in pots in a cold frame. Peas like to be cool, so keep them moist and give midsummer crops late shade. And remember to space seeds carefully; peas don’t like to be crowded.
Pick small gooseberries to thin out heavy crops, leaving the remaining fruits well spaced out along the branches to continue growing to a bigger size
Give flowering plants and shrubs a feed with general fertiliser
Continue to plant courgettes, pumpkins and tomatoes outside
Pinch out the tips of trailing plants in baskets and pots to make them branch out
Sow perennials in pots or a nursery bed
Place a small ramp into steep-sided, formal pools, so that small mammals like hedgehogs can climb out if they accidentally fall in
Dig out or spot-treat individual weeds in your lawn, like dandelions
Keep the greenhouse cool by opening doors and vents each morning
Harvest lettuce, radish, other salad crops and early potatoes
Hoe borders regularly to keep down weeds
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