Scented flowers part two – open garden in spring.

This time I will talk about flowers with a nice scent – honest! Susan has learned not to trust me when I invite her to sniff unfamiliar flowers – she knows my tastes run to the weird and obscure.

This time I want to list my favourite scented flowers in our own garden. These have no protection whatsoever in our wet USDA zone 8 fairly coastal garden in NW England. Our soil is shallow, very alkaline (pH 7.7) and free draining, on top of limestone rubble on a west facing slope overlooking Morecambe Bay. It has lower rainfall than further inland but is very exposed to the prevailing winds from the Irish sea. Most winters we only get slight and transient frosts. Winters 2009/10 and 2010/11 saw temperatures dip to -8C and stay below freezing in daytime for weeks. This is unusual. 2015/16 and 2016/17 had no frost at all – Pelargoniums in pots lived trough the winter outside.

Iris ‘Jane Phillips’.

We love bearded Iris, and Iris of all kinds, but when it comes to scent this is unbeatable and is currently (late May) at its peak in our garden – scenting the whole garden. It is a very vigorous and healthy plant too.


Paeonia suffruticosa/rockii hybrid?

This is an unnamed tree Peony we bought cheaply at a local garden centre and is one of my favourite flowers in our garden. The beautiful dinner-plate size flowers have a lovely and overpowering scent. I just bought a plant of true P. rockii (see second pic below) – something I have wanted for years – but it will be a few years before I can sniff this one! Many of these tree peonies are reputedly hardy to -40C so suitable for those readers in NE US and Canada perhaps?


P. rockii Photo: Wikipedia/public domain


These, for us, epitomise scent in the garden. Luckily our garden conditions are perfect for the vast majority of them and we have lost count how many we grow – it exceeds 30 species and varieties. They range in size from the huge and vigorous D. tangutica to the little alpine cushions of D. arbuscula. (The even tinier D. petraea gets winter protection from the wet so is excluded here). Colour is usually white/cream or pink but we also grow the yellow D. calcicola and D.giraldii. The latter is deciduous (as is the cream-flowered D.alpina), the others we grow are evergreen.

Daphne x susannae ‘Cheriton’
D. cneorum growing at the foot of D. tangutica, with D. alpina just visible at top left!
Daphne alpina
Daphne giraldii

Primula flaccida.

From Yunnan ans Sicuan in China. Gorgeous, amazingly scented but short-lived and better in a more damp and shaded garden. It is normally blue-flowered as you can see in the link:

My keen-eyed wife Susan spotted this (very very) rare white form on a nursery stall and snapped it up.


Rhododendron luteum.

One of the deciduous ‘azalea’. This is impossible to grow in the limy soil of our current garden but I could not miss it out. Our friend Peter Bland, who specialises in Rhododendron, regards it as his favourite. The scent is strong and wonderful and it covers itself in flowers. It is native to SE Europe and W Asia – centred on Turkey and the Caucasus.


Arum creticum

I include this here largely because I like Arums and this is a rare example of one with a pleasant scent (fruity). It is also visually attractive. The flowers only last a few days but shiny foliage is attractive and it can produce attractive berries in autumn too. Originally thought endemic to Crete it has since been found on neighbouring Karpathos and mainland Turkey.

Photo 17-04-2018, 18 46 57

Spiranthes cernua var odorata ‘Chadd’s Ford’

Named for the place in Pennsylvania where it was found, this has been in cultivation since the 1970s and is one of the very best Orchids for the open garden, provided it can be given a constantly moist position. It is quite tall and has a nice vanilla fragrance. It is valuable for its late flowering – October to November.



This, like Arum, is a genus with some unpleasantly pongy species. I grow two which have a very pleasant scent.

Trillium luteum from the Smoky Mountains is a dwarf species which often has very nicely marked leaves but the yellow flowers have a citrus fragrance.


The lovely Trillium albidum from California is much larger and the flowers, white with a hint of pink in the throat, have a strong rose fragrance. Photo by ‘Eric in SF’ via Wikipedia.



The best of the scented narcissi for the open garden is probably N. poeticus or its hybrids but the little Jonquils are often better scented. They are better placed on a sunny rock garden than in the general flower border. They are also great in pots and troughs.

Photo 10-03-2018, 11 42 11
Narcissus jonquilla var henriquesii


Nothing new here – Hyacinth bulbs and their flower scent are a feature of early spring and are often forced for indoor flowering in winter too. This unprepossessing little thing is the wild Turkish species that the garden hyacinths have been bred from. It shares their lovely fragrance.

Photo 25-02-2018, 14 59 24
Hyacinthus orientalis ssp chionophilus

And a couple of other plants that are a bit more risky but cheaply available and this makes them worth experimenting with:

Iris tuberosa.

I have seen this emerging through snow in parts of the Mediterranean. Named the ‘Widow Iris’ for its sombre colouring it has a pleasant scent and has been used as a cut flower. This is very borderline in our garden and does far better with a little protection from rain especially, but it can do well in a warm sunny spot that dries out a bit in summer. It is closely related to the Iris reticulata group but has leaves throughout the winter, which leaves it vulnerable to extreme weather and to mollusc predation. It does not usually like being in pots but I am lucky enough to have a form that tolerates this, which means I can protect it to some extent.

Photo 10-03-2018, 11 41 26

Muscari macrocarpum.

Native to rocky areas and cliffs in the Eastern Mediterranean this is one of the largest Grape Hyacinths. This is surprisingly hardy in the UK (and available quite cheaply) but prefers a well drained soil that dries out a little and is warm in summer. It does OK for us. The strong sweet scent has a hint of Banana.

Photo 14-04-2018, 13 11 50
Muscari macrocarpum

The very close Muscari muscarimia is less easily available but just as nicely scented, though rather more musky.

Photo 14-04-2018, 13 12 03

Addendum June 4th : For Eve and anyone else wondering: This is a view of the back (main) garden looking west from upstairs. In the foreground is the green roof of the extension. The property line is just inside the tall trees at the end, after the shed just visible beyond the greenhouse. Along the edges you can see the right and left boundary fences, the right one is overdue for replacement. We also have a much smaller front garden.


  1. Thank you Gill. For many years the world was a scary place for me so, yes, I think I have tried to create a nice space where I can enjoy plants from around the world but without the anxiety of actually travelling😊

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Some genuinely wonderful blog posts on this internet site, appreciate it for contribution. “The key to everything is patience. You get the chicken by hatching the egg, not by smashing it.” by Arnold Glasgow.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s