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How to create a perfectly scented garden

Garden Designer Franchesca Watson fills us in on creating a garden infused with a heady fragrance for summer evenings outdoors

By Heidi Bertish  | November 24, 2021 | Category

Images by Elsa Young & Heidi Bertish
Images by Elsa Young & Heidi Bertish

Garden Designer Franchesca Watson fills us in on creating a garden infused with a heady fragrance for summer evenings outdoors

We are not the only ones for whom perfume is attractive, often evoking memories and emotions. In nature’s scheme of things, flowers that throw out their waves of scent at night tend to be pollinated by moths or bats, and they also tend to be white or very pale colours so that they shine in the moonlight and make navigation easy.

THe moonflower opens at night, releasing a wonderful scent that attracts nighttime pollinators

Many well-loved traditional garden plants are known for their heady night fragrances: think gardenias and Magnolias, star jasmine and pale honeysuckle, clematis, moonflowers, lemons and orange trees, nicotianas, evening primrose, St Joseph lilies, pale dianthus and Freesias – and the night cestrum or Cestrum nocturnum is incredible if you can get hold of it.

If you want indigenous plants, for large shrubs or trees try Buddleja auriculata (heavily honey scented with a great habit), wild gardenia (Gardenia thunbergia) with its architectural branching, Rothmannia capensis, Nuxia floribunda, Diospyros whyteana, Gonoima kamassi and Freylinia lanceolata. Medium size shrubs include all the carissas, Pavettas, Coleonema alba, and the fairly woody Jasminum multipartitum. Smaller lovelies include Agathosma mucronulata and A. ciliaris (in fact most white buchus), pale Pelargoniums such as Pelargonium tomentosum (peppermint scented), Eriocephalus africanus ‘Wild rosemary’, Freesia alba (best planted in drifts in your lawns), and the lovely graceful Struthiola dodecandra and Gnidia squarrosa.

Franchesca Watson

For the greatest effect, plant near windows, terraces, outside seating areas and benches and along your pathways. You need to be able to throw open the windows and patio doors when the smells of a romantic summer night beckon. To enjoy to the fullest, add lowkey outdoor lighting, but remember to switch off the lights before midnight so pollinators can find their way in the dark to your gorgeous pale blooms.

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