Scented plants are probably not something you’d immediately think of in connection with the autumn garden – but surprising as it may seem, spring and summer don’t have a monopoly on gorgeous garden perfumes.
If asked to name some autumn scented plants could you do it? It might be trickier than you think, as the scents we associate with autumn usually tend towards the woodsmoke / damp leaves / spiced pumpkin variety, no? Actually I suspect spiced pumpkin has more to do with Starbucks than with autumn, in this part of the world anyway, thanks to the cult status of the PSL in recent times. (For those aged 21 and over that’s the Pumpkin Spiced Latte, obviously ).
On a recent walk through a beautiful English garden recently though, I was reminded that some plants like to put their best foot forward later in the season and stand out from the crowd when you’d least expect it. I found myself greeted by the gorgeous burnt sugar scent of a mature Katsura tree, bringing to mind candyfloss, toffee apples and brightly painted carousels spinning round to old-fashioned fairground tunes – which incidentally we should have to look forward to in Eyre Square right here in Galway before we are very much older.
So there are three rather unusual plants to look out for if you’d like something a bit different in the garden, and if you think of the garden as a sensory project for all of the year, which to my mind is no bad thing, the more you have to interest and absorb you throughout the seasons, the better your relationship with your garden.
Cercidiphyllum japonicum – the aforementioned Katsura tree – an elegant medium sized deciduous tree with leaves turning yellow and orange in autumn, when they release their famous burnt sugar scent. It’s happier in neutral or acidic soils and needs a sheltered spot.
Echinacea ‘Fragrant Angel’ – a cultivar of the echinacea or coneflower plant, with white petals instead of the more usual pink common to the species. The flowers have a vanilla like scent as it blooms in very late summer and autumn and are a good source of nectar for insects. Best planted en masse or at least in groups, and will mix well with ornamental grasses and other late flowering species such as sedum, rudbeckia and aster. A flowering perennial, it will return year after year to add fragrance to the autumn garden.
Nicotiana sylvestris – also known as tobacco plant – this is one for the keen gardener who enjoys the challenge of raising plants from seed under cover. A half hardy perennial, it won’t be able to withstand frost, so seeds will have to be sown under glass, raised on and planted out when risk of frost has passed in a sheltered place. A lot of work for a plant that will only last one season, but you’ll be rewarded with spectacularly tall, drooping white flowers with a powerful evening scent.