Whiffery in the borders

My children get sick of me rushing off into the undergrowth with a cry of “What’s that smell?” as I try to track down the source of beautiful perfumes drifting from nearby plantings.

In my current incarnation as a cutting garden gardener, I’m always on the look out for flowers that not only please the eye, but also entrance the nostrils. I love nothing more than opening the door when buckets of flowers and foliage are resting in the dark, cool garage, waiting to be arranged the following morning, and being bowled over by a bouquet of scents which would grace any upmarket parfumier.

Sometimes flowers take me completely by surprise – like when I was transporting a batch of heartsease violas to a plant sale and the whole car was filled with the essence of parma violets! I hadn’t really taken too much notice of these diminutive flowers, apart from thinking they looked pretty in small terracotta pots, but have planted them religiously since discovering their amazing perfume.

I’m busy at present plotting to get scent throughout the seasons and here are some of my spring and summer favourites.


Pheasant’s eye narcissus (narcissus poeticus) doesn’t have the most overwhelming of flowers but has the most delicious perfume and makes a wonderful, simple, unfussy bunch to bring indoors.

Whiffery in the borders - fragrant flowers - Carole Patilla

Pheasant’s eye daffodills – delightful

But the queen of the spring smellies has got to be Daphne. She may be a temperamental diva who shivers and turns pale in our recent and prolonged wet weather, but when she flowers, you can forgive her anything. The tiny flowers borne on the evergreen branches are enough to stop you in your tracks from about 5 metres. Having carried a flowering plant around the garden centre last year, I decided that Dahpne should be made available on the National Health Service as the gloriousness of the perfume cannot fail to lift the spirits. A tiny sprig in a cut flower arrangement is enough to elevate it from the merely pretty to a whole new level of delight.

Whiffery in the borders - fragrant flowers - Carole Patilla

Daphne – because she’s worth it!


Summer has a huge array of scents to choose from. For permanent plantings, the obvious choice is fragrant roses. Try the knockout Turkish delight of ‘Alec’s Red’ which definitively busts the myth that hybrid teas don’t have any scent. Or visit a local rose garden with a notebook and bury your nose in everything to find the nuances of apple, myrrh or musk that you like best. I used to think roses were a bit granniated until a friend urged me so smell a white one planted in her garden and its delicious scent converted me instantly to the perfumed varieties of this traditional English flower. Personal favourites include the pink ‘Constance Spry’ and ‘Gertrude Jekyll’, and the rich red-purple of the dramatic ‘Falstaff’.

Proust talked about memory and smell being bound up together and for me, frangipani blossom is redolent of my years spent in Indonesia. Sadly, our climate will not allow me to grow a massive flowering tropical tree, but I was delighted when I came across a shrubby herbaceous (not climbing) clematis called ‘Wyvale’ whose unusual lilac-blue tubular flowers are the nearest olefactory experience to frangipani that I’ve found for the English garden. It also has the bonus of being completely hardy in our weather – no mean feat at present!

For a blast of perfume that is all the sweeter for its impermanence, there are, of course, always sweet peas. Scrambling over wigwams or tripods, these prolific lovelies are an endless source of blooms for the vase and for me they are one of the smells of summer. As a cutting flower, another huge bonus is that that the more you cut them, the more they flower. Easy to grow, lovely to look at and with a divine scent what more could you ask from a simple packet of seeds?

Whiffery in the borders - fragrant flowers - Carole Patilla

Sweet peas – the smell of summer

You can read my blog here: Tuckshop Gardener

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