Western Australian gardeners have a wonderful choice of scented plants to choose from. These give an extra dimension to a garden, adding another sensory element. As well as the perhaps more common European plants, a number of natives are also very fragrant and well worth cultivating.
In late winter, the perfumed camellia Cinnamon Cindy, cherry pie (heliotrope) and jonquils all contribute to the enjoyment of a garden. Spring is sensory overload with roses, boronia, wisteria, sweet peas, freesia and citrus blossom. In summer and autumn gardenia, orange jessamine, roses and frangipani come to the fore.
Orange jessamine (Murraya paniculata) is related to the citrus trees. This evergreen plant has small, white, jasmine-scented flowers in spring with a second flowering in late summer. It is usually grown as a large shrub (to 3 metres) or as a hedge where the sheer volume of the flowers increases the citrus-like fragrance.
Lavender blossoms are usually some shade of purple and are held in spikes above the foliage. The oil glands that create the scent are situated in the flowers, stems and leaves. There are English, Italian and French forms of lavender with variations in height from 50cm to 1.5m high.
Daphne cneorum is a heavenly scented but fussy plant which usually only survives in Western Australia in a pot. It needs moist conditions. For best results, try the newly released variety Eternal Fragrance. This bears lots of scented white flowers in spring and continues to display odd flowers through to autumn. It reaches a height of 60cm with a spread of 90cm. It is tolerant of heat and frost and has a lovely fragrance.
Many bulbs are scented. The hyacinth, jonquil and freesia probably have the strongest perfumes with the fragrance of the jonquil and freesia often too strong for some people to tolerate as a cut flower. All are planted in autumn for spring flowering and all grow well in pots or in garden beds. Jonquils and freesias will easily naturalise in the garden. In some areas, the freesia has become an introduced weed. Hyacinths are best grown in a pot and brought inside for a few weeks while in flower.
Star Jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides) is an evergreen twiner with thick, glossy leaves and perfumed starry white flowers. It blooms in late spring and summer and will be happy either is a sunny position or in semi-shade. It is a popular creeper/climber for covering fences or concealing less than attractive areas.
The gardenia is a great favourite with glossy green leaves and perfect creamy-white perfumed flowers in summer. They like acid soils but are not suited to coastal sands. However they will thrive in a pot. Good varieties are gardenia Florida which grows to a metre wide with a similar spread and Professor Pucci. Golden Magic is another attractive variety which has white flowers that age to yellow. It grows to 1.5 metres.
Most of the frangipani grown in Western Australia is Plumeria rubra. This deciduous tree grows to 5 metres and has lovely dark green foliage. It is delicately scented usually with single flowers which come in white, yellow, deep pink or blends of all three. Flowers appear in the warmer months.
Heliotrope or Cherry Pie (Heliotrope arborescens) is an evergreen shrub which grows to a metre high. Clusters of purple flowers are borne from late winter to late summer and have a heady, vanilla fragrance.
Some plants save their strongest perfumes for the hours of darkness. Many of these are pollinated by moths attracted by the scent. The following plants mostly bloom during the warmer months so it is a good idea to plant them near outdoor entertaining areas or near open windows where you can get the benefit of their sweet perfume.
Moon flower (Ipomoea alba) is a night-blooming perennial of the morning glory family. Translucent white flowers open slowly in the evening and stay open until touched by the morning sun.
Osmanthus (Osmanthus delavayi) has one of the strongest perfumes of any flower. It blooms in late winter and spring. The shrubs grow to around 1.5 metres. The insignificant flowers are small and white but have an intense apricot fragrance.
Night-scented tobacco (Nicotiana sylvestris) grows to about 1.5 metres and has a lovely fragrance. It is a cottage garden favourite and an annual. It has big leaves and long, pendant flowers. The blossoms are 6cm long, white and trumpet shaped.
Angel's Trumpet (brugmansia) is a big shrub of 1.5 to 3 metres depending on the variety. The soft, tobacco-like leaves and perfumed, pendulous, trumpet-shaped flowers are very attractive. Blooms may be white, apricot, yellow or pink. The smaller red form does not have a scent. However be aware that all parts of this plant are poisonous if they are eaten. It can be planted in sun or light shade.
Luculia is a round shrub which grows up to 2.5 metres tall and produces beautiful pink flowers with a delectable scent.
A new release of the Ozothamnus family (not to be confused with Osmanthus) is the Gold Dust rice flower (Ozothamnus Gold Dust), a small perennial shrub with aromatic, fine grey-green foliage. The foliage forms a great contrast with the bright golden yellow flowers which form at the end of long straight stems. It flowers in spring. The plant has been bred from Ozothamnus diotophyllus which is endemic to the semi-arid regions of eastern Australia. It makes a great garden specimen or can be grown in a pot.
The golden flowers form as clumps on the ends of the stems. These can be picked when the buds are just open and used in arrangements. The bushes grow to about a metre tall and 30cm wide. They like full sun and well-drained soils. Once established, they only need minimal watering and are drought tolerant. They are tolerant of light frosts.
Spent flower stems should be removed and the bush trimmed back hard annually to encourage a new flush of foliage and blooms. If left untrimmed, the branches will sprawl to the ground and vertical side shoots will be produced. Fertilise twice a year with controlled release pellets.
It is well worth choosing a few plants that have a lovely fragrance. And if simplicity is your thing, just have a garden full of roses, taking care to choose ones with a perfume.