Andrew McIndoe explores sweet summer scents

PERHAPS the greatest pleasure of a summer evening is to walk in the garden when the air is laden with the heady fragrance of summer flowers.

Scented blooms are an essential element in any garden and those that perform when the evenings are still light enough to enjoy them are particularly valuable.

Still, cool evenings and mornings bring forth the sweetest scents while, on warm, breezy days, the fragrances are often weaker.

Few plants can compare to the honeysuckle when it comes to delicious, sweet fragrance. Like roses, not all possess this essential quality, so be careful when choosing one.

Our native woodbine, Lonicera periclymenum, is a simple woodland plant that has long been grown and cherished in cottage gardens for its scent.

In the wild, it scrambles over hedgerows and through the lower branches of trees. The creamy flowers are produced in long succession from mid-summer into early autumn.

There are a number of named cultivars, of which Graham Thomas is one of the best. The buds are pale cream, becoming rich creamy yellow as the fragrant flowers open. It is a free-flowering form that grows on any soil.

Being a woodland plant one of the most useful qualities of Lonicera periclymenum is that it performs reliably in sun or shade.

Our native honeysuckle is a deciduous climber, becoming a tangle of bare twigs during the winter months hence the attraction of the evergreen honeysuckle, Lonicera japonica "Halliana". This has twining stems and opposite leaves; the flowers are carried in twos and threes in the leaf axils rather than in larger flowerheads. It grows with vigour as a climber or as groundcover and flowers throughout the summer.

Its only drawback is mildew, to which it is very susceptible. This spoils the foliage and detracts from the appearance of the plant.

Lonicera similis var. delavayi is a better choice. This has a larger flower carried in the same way as "Halliana" and larger, pointed leaves. It is not as vigorous so it suits the smaller garden and, although the scent is not as strong, it is altogether a better plant.

Summer also brings the scent of jasmine to the English garden. This is a flower that smells stronger in warm weather, hence its prevalence on the evening air in warmer climates.

Jasminum officinale "Affine" is the most widely-grown form. This has green twining stems and fern-like mid-green leaves. The flower clusters are produced on the tips of the branches, so you must let it grow freely for it to flower well. It performs best in full sun and is not for the tidy-minded gardener.

The tall, white Nicotiana affinis, or tobacco plant, is a half-hardy annual that grows to 60cm or more and combines happily with herbaceous perennials. A few near the patio or beneath the windows of the house will fill the evening air with their rich, spicy scent.

Heliotrope has long been valued for its deep-blue scented flowers. This is a half-hardy shrub usually grown as a summer bedding plant.

It has dark-green felty leaves and clusters of tiny flowers in branched heads. Recently, it has become popular as a patio plant, with the introduction of some new free-flowering highly fragrant varieties.

There are many wonderfully-scented lilies; the heavily-fragrant oriental varieties, such as "Stargazer" and "Casa Blanca" are familiar headily-perfumed cut flowers. These, too, are good in the summer garden but are surpassed in performance by Lilium regale.

This is a true garden lily with tall stems clothed in narrow dark green leaves and crowned with a head of large trumpet flowers.

The buds are purple-pink, opening to pure white, flushed with gold, remaining deep pink on the outside of the petals.

The blooms are long-lasting and weather-resistant and wonderfully fragrant. Just two or three strategically-placed plants will fill the whole garden with perfume.