It’s summer.

That means glorious sunny days with flower-filled gardens and air filled with heady fragrances.

I found out by accident that abelias are perfumed

Unless you’re in my part of Britain, in which case it often means rain.

The Importance Of Perfumed Plants

Even the most foliage-obsessed of us enjoy flowers. There seems to be so many around at the moment: simple single flowers, daisies of various types, tall spires of delphiniums and lupins, the ruffled double roses.

In late winter the daphnes are relished for perfume, but they offer nothing for summer when we’re more likely to be enjoying our gardens

Perfume is valuable to us because it adds an extra dimension to our plants and gardens, an extra sensory experience.

Different Perfumes

I’m always amazed at the range of different perfumes that flowers produce.

The flowers of star jasmine, Trachelospermum jasminoides, smell divine

Some are very light and fresh, some are very sweet, while some make me think of exotic spices.

Koenigia x fennica looks great in a shaded woodland garden, but it doesn’t smell very nice

Not all perfumes are pleasant of course; some plants are pollinated by flies and beetles, and to attract these insects they produces foul scents more like rotting meat, stale urine or animal manure. Yuck!

Matter Of Taste

Even in the nicer perfumes it’s common for gardeners to have favourites, or at least some perfumes that they like more than others. A lot of people like the scent of gardenia flowers for example, but I personally find them sickly and stale smelling. Others can find lavender a bit too much…

Lavender is an iconic scented plant, although it’s only really scented if you brush against it


Others dislike the bubblegum perfume of some philadelphus; I quite like them.

We all have our tastes and preferences, and this is what makes talking about the attributes of plants so much fun. I guess it’s no different to having different tastes in food.

Superstar Of Summer

If we had to pick a superstar flower for summer it would have to be the rose.

Rosa ‘Stanwell Perpetual’, an old English rose

Not only are we blessed with a diverse range of flower types and colours, so many garden roses are perfumed.

Some roses are only lightly perfumed- you must really search for any scent- but others fill the air with their fragrance.

Where cultivation is appropriate the perfumes of ‘rugosa’ roses take some beating

I dream that one day circumstances will give me a garden with some old trees to grow rambling roses through. While their seasons are usually short, their abundant clouds of flowers perfume the whole garden if you’re lucky.

One of my absolute favourite roses of all, and possibly my top choice for a rambler, is ‘Francis E. Lester’. I’m enamoured with its flowers of pink and white, fading to white with a hint of pink, in July. It’s a fairly small plant by rambling rose standards, growing to maybe 12ft (4m) or so; this makes it a better choice for [large] fences and walls. Best of all I love catching its fragrance on the warm summer air.

Rosa ‘Francis E. Lester’ is a fantastic rambling rose for perfume, even in light shade.

For me gardening is all about these pleasures. I still like the stinky plants too, there’s something subversive about a plant that smells bad. Everything tells us that plants should smell nice, fragrant, but we gardeners know better than to expect plants to do what we want.