On balmy summer evenings, there’s nothing better than a night-scented plant to perfume the warm, still air. The flowers are usually pale so they remain visible at dusk, making them particularly valuable for those who are away from their gardens during the day.
The colour and fragrance of evening-scented flowers attract nocturnal pollinators which, in turn, attract bats. Wonderful for wildlife, and diverse in size and form, evening-scented plants suit a range of gardening styles and budgets. They can be grown in a small pot to sit on an outdoor table or doorstep, or used to fragrance the grandest of terraces.
The best place for evening-scented plants
Choose a site where you will easily enjoy their perfume. If you arrive home at dusk, place night-scented plants by your entrance so their fragrance will greet you on your return, or grow them close to where you sit out in the evening. Some people grow them under their bedroom windows to allow the fragrance to drift indoors, while I like to have pots of night-scented flowers by the greenhouse so I can enjoy them as I tend crops in the evening.
The key is to contain and concentrate the scent, so a warm, sheltered spot works best. If it’s enclosed, all the better, as it will trap the fragrance in your garden. Windy sites are not ideal as the beautiful perfume will be buffeted elsewhere.
Avoid combining too many scents or your garden runs the risk of smelling like the perfume hall of a department store with nothing standing out. Whichever evening-scented plant you select, group a number of them together to maximise the impact of their fragrance.
Where space is in short supply, grow plants in containers, or consider evening-scented climbers. And although you may be selecting these plants for their fragrance, give some thought to their daytime requirements too. For gardens in shade for part of the day, try things like Nicotiana ‘Eau de Cologne Mixed’ or Lonicera japonica ‘Halliana’.
Wonderful evening-scented plants
Adding evening fragrance to the garden needn’t cost the earth. Pinches of night-scented stock seeds (Matthiola longipetala subsp. bicornis) scattered by a patio, a path, in pots, window boxes or hanging baskets will add incredible fragrance within 8 weeks for very little outlay. Mix them in with daytime flowering plants for the best of all worlds. Here are some seeds to try:
- Nicotiana sylvestris, with its mop of elongated trumpet-shaped white flowers held aloft by a rosette of weed-suppressing leaves, is a big annual that grows from the tiniest of seeds.
- The pale lilac or white flowers of sweet rocket (Hesperis matronalis) look at home in informal, cottage garden-style planting. Attractive to butterflies and bees during the day, this pollinator magnet will add evening fragrance to the garden from May to July. Deadhead to prolong flowering, or allow it to self-seed. Sweet rocket is usually treated as a biennial. Sow in late spring or early summer, and transplant to its final position in sun or part shade in autumn.
- Evening primrose (Oenothera biennis) is another night-scented biennial that is suited to informal or cottage gardens. Sow from March to May, or August to September.
- The Tumbelina series of petunias are late-night revellers worth growing for their after-dark fragrance alone. They;re perfect for containers and hanging baskets.
Perennials and bulbs
Another easy way to add evening scent to your garden, perennials and bulbs will reward you year after year with sweet-smelling blooms. Here are three great varieties to try:
- The fragrance of Dianthus Tickled Pink always stops me in my tracks on a summer evening. At around 30cm tall, it looks great in a pot on a doorstep or table top.
- Phlox paniculata holds its own as a beautiful plant in the border during the day and continues to fill the air with its fragrance as the sun sets.
- Lilium regale in pots or borders makes a stylish statement in contemporary and traditional schemes. Plant bulbs from autumn – pop a scoop of grit beneath the bulbs if growing on clay.
Should space be at a premium, climbing plants are a great way to make use of vertical height on a wall, fence or trellis screen. Here are some fragrant climbers to train close to bedroom windows or outdoor seating areas:
- Lonicera japonica ‘Halliana’ is a beautiful, vigorous evergreen honeysuckle with white and lemon flowers.
- The white-flowered evergreen climber, Trachelospermum jasminoides, makes a wonderful addition to gardens in milder areas. If you have plenty of space, try Wisteria floribunda.
Tender is the night….
Tender plants that are over-wintered indoors and brought outside for the summer can change the way your garden looks while adding amazing evening fragrance.
The flowers of night-blooming jasmine (Cestrum nocturnum) may be small, but their fragrance is a treat. For high visual impact in larger spaces try white scented Brugmansia suaveolens, or at the other extreme, pretty little Zaluzianskya ovata as a table top plant.
About the author:
Sarah Shoesmith was awarded the Centenary Prize by the Royal Horticultural Society in 2003, and gained a Distinction in the Diploma in Garden Design from The English Gardening School. She is passionate about gardening for wildlife and growing food, and writes about gardening for magazines and other sites.