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Minter: Summer fragrance — can your outdoor space live up to the hype?

Fragrance makes a huge difference to the enjoyment and appreciation of our summer gardens and to our senses, says master gardener Brian Minter.

Summertime in our gardens 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!

Finding lasting perfume is not as easy as we may think. 

Finding plants that will accommodate sun or shade, be compatible with other plants and continue to perfume all summer is possible, but we 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, like 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 ground plantings. "Blue Marine," another compact dark foliaged variety, produces fragrant, deep blue flowers and grows only 25 cm (10”) tall and wide. Like "Sachet," it’s a rich deep contrast plant to other colours.

When folks ask for a flowering shrub that blooms all summer with a nice perfume, buddleia (butterfly bush) leaps to mind. Native to China, Japan and other parts of Asia, as well as Chile, Mexico and the U.S., 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 good news is there are now many new varieties that are sterile and do not pose this very important environmental concern. The compact varieties from Proven Winners, like the "Lo & Behold" and the "Pugster" series, can grow nicely in containers. Darwin Plants in Holland have also introduced the "Chrysalis" series which is compact, fragrant and non-invasive.

One of the most underused plants for our patios is lavender. You need a hot, sunny spot with very good drainage and a trained sense not to overwater.

The fragrance of lavender is nice to enjoy all year-round, even to simply rub your hands over the foliage. When it blooms, with its blue, lavender, pink or white flowers, it puts on quite a show. 

Today, there are a number of lavender varieties from which to choose. The hardiest are the "angustifolia" types, particularly "Munstead" (zone 5) with its very compact habit.

French lavender (L. dentate candicans) is very popular because of its fragrant foliage and wide range of new flower colours that persist well into the summer. The sweetest smelling flowers are found on English spike lavender (L. latifolia). It’s hardy to zone 5 and has very fragrant flowers all summer.

My favourite summer lavender, however, is Spanish lavender (L. stoechas), especially the many "anouk" varieties. Their huge, soft lavender to rich purple blooms are perfumed and so prolific they just keep coming all summer long and, with a light pruning, even into the fall. They are a little more tender (zone 7), and they need some winter protection. 

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. 

The many new varieties of dianthus are making a huge colour impact in summer gardens. I love their enticing perfume and long repeat-blooming periods. For some spectacular colour, look for the new "El Capitan" series.

If you do a little searching, you’ll discover many more garden jewels that have a delightful summer scent, 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 gardens and to our senses. 

Please try to include even a little fragrance in each bed or container.