Stephen RyanFlower with fruity fragrances

Most of us like perfume in the garden and the world is full of sweetly scented possibilities so that we must all be able to have some in our own plots. I have to say though that it is plants with off beat and unusual fragrances that I have a particular soft spot for. I do naturally want a daphne and of course a winter sweet (Chimonanthus praecox), one of my all time favourites, but one can have hours of harmless fun discussing weird scents and what they smell like and no two people seem to have the same olfactory senses so will almost always disagree with you.

Wintersweet, Chimonanthus praecox

Wintersweet, Chimonanthus praecox

By the way have you ever noticed that if someone swears that some plant smells of, say coconut, then that is forever after what it will smell like to those new to it. I find this a very enjoyable game to hear what someone thinks it smells like and then to see if I can sway them my way!

I remember once reading that Osmanthus delavayi smelt of cheap coconut suntan lotion and suddenly this plant smelt exactly like that and I now have quite a different feeling about this plant.

Following are a few of my favourite ones to get you going but I must warn you not to read any further if you don’t wish to suddenly smell things the way I do instead of the way you do!

Azara microphylla

Azara microphylla

Having difficulty knowing where to start on a short list of choices I thought that perhaps alphabetically would be the way to go and serendipitously one of my most used and best loved is Azara microphylla from South America. It is a quick growing upright small evergreen tree to 5 metres or so with tiny deep green leaves on elegant fan shaped branches making it an ideal tree to hide that new block of flats over the back fence. I have three in my garden and one I imposed on the neighbour opposite so that in bloom I can smell it from everywhere.

When it flowers for the first time you won’t see the tiny blooms and you will wonder where the smell is coming from. Every August my garden smells like a freshly baked chocolate cake with lots of vanilla in it. Most books say that it smells only of vanilla but they are wrong!

Clerodendrum trichotomum

Clerodendrum trichotomum

Clerodendrum trichotomum fruit

Clerodendrum trichotomum fruit

Clerodendrum trichotomum is another plant with hidden assets that I wouldn’t want to be without and now that it has suckered freely into a small deciduous copse I doubt that I could get rid of it! It hails from Asia and grows to about 4 metres. In high summer it produces dainty clusters of white flowers with a lovely scent albeit a normal flower fragrance. In autumn it produces clusters of charming blue fruit surrounded by inflated deep pink calyxes that always for some reason remind me of Court Jesters. It is in this case the smell of its bruised leaves that will entertain your guests when you shove one under their noses. I have yet to have anyone immediately pick what it smells like but when I suggest peanut butter they all exclaim “of course”.

Osmanthus x fortunei

Osmanthus x fortunei

I mentioned an Osmanthus earlier and possibly one of the best is the hybrid Osmanthus x fortunei. I have an old 4 metre plant in my nursery garden that when in flower during the autumn wafts the aroma of ripe apricots all over the place, it really gets my mouth watering. Its evergreen foliage and ability to grow well in comparatively dry shade should endear it to all gardeners, so much so that you will want to collect the whole genus.

Oemleria cerasiformis

Oemleria cerasiformis

A very obscure and I guess subtle deciduous shrub from North America that I none the less enjoy in my own garden is Oemleria cerasiformis. It makes a suckering clump of upright stems to 3 or 4 metres and is one of the very first plants to leaf up in the spring. Its pendant spikes of tiny white flowers come out in late winter with the leaves and are pleasantly coconut scented and as an added bonus the leaves smell of cucumber if crushed!

I hope I have now started you off in a new and fun direction in your garden and perhaps sometime I will write about plants that stink! They are such good practical jokes when pointed out to the uninitiated!

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Stephen Ryan

About Stephen Ryan

Stephen Ryan grew up and still lives at Mt. Macedon in Victoria where he has run his nursery Dicksonia Rare Plants since 1980. He was for 3 years host of Gardening Australia on ABC TV and is a regular on Melbourne’s 3CR. Sunday garden program. He has written 4 books and innumerable articles for magazines both in Australia and abroad and is also a sought-after speaker at garden clubs.

7 thoughts on “Flower with fruity fragrances

  1. helen mckerral on said:

    Lovely post, Stephen. I reckon the Port wine magnolia (Michelia figo, I think) doesn’t smell like wine at all, but like bananas!

  2. Perhaps Juicy Fruit after a banana smoothy! See what fun it can be!
    Regards to all sniffers from Stephen

  3. Augusta on said:

    Enjoyable post Stephen! Scent in the garden is so interesting whether it is delightful, pungent or downright awful. Your post made me reflect on how describing scent is a complex, subjective and somewhat unreliable business. I’ve just had a Coelogyne flaccida bloom for the first time with an intense perfume – I can’t think of how to describe it other that is is reminiscent of Dendrobium falcorostrum – not very useful unless you have smelt one or the other! A fabulous awful smell I have growing at the moment comes from the leaves of Delphinium requienii. They are large handsome dissected shiny leaves and just the merest brush releases a pungent, unpleasant odor. In fact it is so unpleasant I have to touch the leaves every time I see it just to remind myself how unpleasant it smells! I always remember in one of your articles you described Clerodendron bungei as smelling like burnt rubber. I couldn’t wait to track one down so I could check it for myself – and your were right – phew! On the more fragrant side, one perfumed plant I still mourn the loss of was a species of Viola I purchased some years ago from a specialist nursery. I believe it was imported from Papua New Guinea. It was a beautiful clear lilac and had two large top petals, the lower three petals being unusually small for a violet so the top petals looked like a pair of ears. But the most wonderful thing about it was the perfume. I took the pot inside to admire the flowers and later that day I noticed the most overwhelming perfume of orange blossom. Sniffing my way around the kitchen to find the source I eventually worked out it was coming from the little violet – and it only seemed to occur at certain times of the day. Having grown many varieties of violet I had never come across one that smelt like this. Unfortunately one morning after I returned it to the garden I came out to find something (I suspect a possum) had trampled it and it never recovered. The species name had not been established when I purchased it so I could search for it for the rest of my life and probably never come across it again – but because of its perfume it will never be forgotten.

    • Well I’m glad that my article has got you pondering, its one of the best things about gardening that there is always more to learn until the day when we can learn the same thing every day and not notice!

  4. Augusta on said:

    Hmm – on second thoughts I think my orange blossom scented Viola may have been from Vietnam. I may have forgotten its details but not the scent. I look forward to your post on plants that stink so I can check them out!

  5. Barry Murphy on said:

    Try sniffing a glass of wine and reaching agreement on the aroma. Life should be full of wine and flowers,in either order

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