How to plant a scented border – for year-round perfume


Scented borders are planted like any other border, in rich, healthy soil that has good drainage. The only difference is that you are aiming to add a selection of flowers that will add perfume to the air throughout the year. Late winter and early spring is the perfect time to plant a scented border, as long as the ground isn’t waterlogged or frozen. The soil will be starting to warm up, and every day brings trees, shrubs and plants closer to the moment when they burst back to life.

Get To Know Your Soil

It is impossible - or at least, very hard work - to garden successfully without knowing the pH values of your soil. Most plants will flourish in soil with a neutral pH level, but ericaceous or acid-loving plants such as rhododendrons and many heathers are adapted to growing on acidic soils, and will grow poorly on alkaline soils. Similarly, plants that thrive in chalky soils such as lilies, foxgloves, lilacs and peonies do best in alkaline or lime-rich soils, and will fail to thrive in acidic soils. The first thing you need to to is test your soil. I know it sounds technical and possibly a little scary, but soil pH tests, such as this soil test kit by Garden Tutor on Amazon, are widely available and easy to use. It usually involves taking a small amount of soil and popping it into a phial of prepared chemicals. Signs that plants are failing to thrive in their soil include slow growth and yellowing leaves, and they rarely reach their full potential if they are unhappy in their soil. But buy the right plants and you will save yourself a lot of time and money.

Choose An Appropriate Site

When choosing somewhere for your scented border, settle for a sheltered area because even robustly scented shrubs will quickly lose their scent in strong winds. Pick a site that is easy to manage - I’d advise against a steeply sloping spot - and avoid areas that dry out fast or become waterlogged. Steer clear of frost pockets, or frost hollows, which are areas of the yard that trap cold air and hold on to snow or frost longer. Very often, frost pockets are low-lying areas that may spend most of the day in shadow.

Consider How Much Sun And Shade You Get

Check the direction your border will be facing to gauge how much light it will get. One way of doing this is to try sun-mapping your yard, taking photos throughout the year to see which areas get the most and least hours of sun a day.

In general terms, south and west-facing areas get the most daylight and will suit sun-loving, Mediterranean garden plants, while borders looking towards the east and north will be better suited to shady plants that prefer not to be subjected to bright light and heat.

Measure Your Border

Scented borders can be as large or as small as your yard allows, they can be straight, curved, wavey or circular. It helps to measure their length and breadth so you can work out how many plants you need to fill the space without overcrowding or leaving too many gaps. Remember that many herbaceous perennials die back in winter, leaving the soil bare, so you may want to choose ground-cover plants such as sempervivums and heucheras that cover the soil and add interest all year round.

Select Your Plants

Plan your scented border before buying any plants, so that you know exactly what you need for where, and avoid expensive mistakes. This year, as in every year, there are plenty of reputable places where you can buy healthy, flourishing plants and our list of recommended vendors is a good place to start. At garden centers, always choose healthy-looking specimens, ignoring any that have sad yellowing leaves, are obviously pot-bound with roots growing from the bottom of the container, and have moss growing on the top of their compost, as this indicates they have been hanging around for some time.

Read the labels on each plant to ascertain their eventual width and height and see whether they like sun, shade, or a bit of both. When buying online, make sure plants come with a guarantee. Consider the long-term interest of the border in your yard. Scented evergreens such as Osmanthus and sweet box (Sarcococca confusa) will add interest by holding onto their leaves in winter, and filling the coldest months with sweet scent too. Choose colours that complement each other but don’t be afraid to create eye-catching contrast either. Don’t limit yourself to plants that throw out scent during the daytime. Many varieties including Nicotiana (tobacco plants) and Phlox are night-scented, making them ideally suited for growing around seating areas.

Position Your Plants

Once you have chosen your plants it helps to set them on the soil, still in their pots, and move them around until you get an arrangement that pleases you. The general rule of thumb is tallest at the back, grading forwards until ground cover and edging plants are used to fill the front. If your border runs along a path, 'walkable' scented plants such as chamomile, sweet woodruff and creeping thyme will release their perfume deliciously if crushed by passing footfall.

Planting From Containers

Whether you are planting trees, shrubs or perennials that are in containers the basics are the same.

– Once you have decided where you wish them to go, dig a hole as deep as their container and a little wider, because plants often fail to thrive if they are planted deeper, or shallower, than their rootball. – Fork in some well-rotted compost or manure and some general purpose fertiliser or bone meal, such as this feed by Burpee on Amazon. This will give the roots something to take up once they are settled in and boost plant growth and root spread. – You may also wish to add some mycorrhizal fungi, like this highly rated Trifecta product on Amazon, beneficial microbes that help with the transference of sugars and water from soil to root, further aiding plant establishment. – While you are doing this, stand the plant in a bowl of water to saturate the rootball and make it easier to slide from its pot. – Once it is out, carefully tease open any congested or circling roots and set the plant in the hole, infilling around it with the removed soil and some compost. – Firm down the soil as you go to knock out air pockets and support the plant, and finish the process by watering generously and mulching over the root area. – Keep an eye on your plants as they get established, dealing with any pests you spot and watering frequently so the soil stays damp but is not allowed to get sodden.

Planting Bare-Root

Winter is the best and most economical time to buy trees, shrubs, roses and fruit bushes because this is when bare root varieties are available. These are young plants, sometimes little more than twigs, that have been sold straight from the soil with their roots wrapped in plastic or burlap

What Plants To Choose?

The ideal border contains interest for every month and season of the year and below I have chosen varieties that will bring life, colour and, above all, the best scents to your garden for 12 months of the year.

Plants For Spring Scent

– Hyacinth – Narcissus – Lily of the valley – Philadephus (mock orange) – Early roses – Star jasmine – Lavender

Plants For Summer Scent

– Freesia – Sweet peas – Sweet woodruff (perfect for ground cover in dry shade) – Roses – Lilies – Night-scented stock – Phlox – Nicotiana - another plant that releases scent at night – Buddleja – Lemon verbena – Chocolate cosmos – Scented leaved pelargoniums – Fennel

Plants For Fall Scent

Cobaea scandens (cup and saucer vine) until the frosts – Agastache – Monarda (Bee balm) – Phlox paniculata – Salvia – Heptacodium miconioides (seven son flower tree) – Plumaria (frangipani) – Gladiolus murielae – Mahonia – Viburnum bodnantense 'Dawn'

Plants For Winter Scent

Coronilla glauca – Sarcoccoca confusa (sweet box) – Daphne – Abeliophyllum distichum (white forsythia) – Rosemary – Winter honeysuckle – Heliotrope (Petasites fragrans) – Witch hazel – Chimonanthus praecox ‘Luteus’ (wintersweet) – Viburnum – Crocus

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