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.
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!
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 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”.
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.
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!