Scented plants add an extra dimension to the night garden. Perfume is one of the lures plants use to attract pollinators to their flowers. Those plants that rely on night-flying insects for pollination (such as moths and beetles) may be extra fragrant at night or may only open at night, furling their flowers by day.
To enjoy plants that are fragrant at night, grow them where their scent will be easily enjoyed, such as under windows, beside garden paths or edging a terrace or outdoor seating area. We enjoy the sweet tutti-frutti scent of a port wine magnolia (Magnolia figo), which grows beside our front entrance. It’s a leafy shrub that just sits in the background for most of the year, but when it flowers – in bursts during the year – it welcomes us home.
Autumn and winter scent
While it isn’t considered a fragrant plant, sasanqua camellia has a gentle fragrance that for me says it is autumn. The scent, which seems to be at its most intense at dusk, somehow mingles with moist soil and fallen leaves to create the smell of autumn.
Some other fragrant plants that bloom as nights get colder have a tantalising scent that seems to waft through the cool night air, without the source of the fragrance being apparent. Buddlea (especially the variety ‘Spring Promise’) and osmanthus (Osmanthus fragrans) have restrained or even non-descript flowers to look at, but all are strongly scented.
As it warms up
As winter morphs into spring, catch the bewitching scent of the native brown boronia, from a pot beside the front or back door. Brown boronia has small, nodding brown and lime flowers, which are highly fragrant even at night. This native plant needs good drainage, but doesn’t like to want for water, so does best in a pot.
The warm evening air of spring is also likely to carry the fragrance of wisteria and the violet-like scent of white banksia rose. In summer, the overwhelming scent is of star jasmine. All three plants are climbers. To make the most of these fragrant plants at night, grow them over a pergola or on a wall near where you sit or dine in the evening.
Gardenias provide summer perfume in the night garden. These versatile plants can be grown as a hedge, standard or as a potted plant. Also bringing fragrance to gardens on a summer evening are roses, evergreen magnolias, which have a lemony fragrance, and frangipanis. After a burst of summer rain, murrayas burst into fragrant bloom and smell delicious on a warm summer night.
For a heady burst of fragrance at nose level in summer, it’s hard to beat liliums. The varieties with large white trumpet flowers can be luminous at night and emit a powerful but localised fragrance.
If you have a garden pond, sniff out the night-flowering water lily, a tropical water lily with flowers that open in the evening and close mid-morning.
One of the scents to enjoy on a warm evening, especially after a summer storm, is that of the aptly named lemon-scented gum (Corymbia citriodora). Evenings are also an opportunity to brush against the fragrant leaves of lavender, rosemary or basil, when enjoying an evening stroll through the summer garden.