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The scents of spring

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A garden full of sweet, subtle fragrances is a feast for the senses and often rekindles pleasant memories

Scent can recall memories from the past and stir our emotions. They may be scents we associate with our childhood, country walks and picnics, and the fragrance of roses, irises, sweetpeas and orange blossom that grew in gran’s garden.

Who can forget the scent of the violet-mauve-white flowers of Yesterday-Today-and-Tomorrow (Brunfelsia pauciflora)?

But let us also rejoice in the scents of our local flora that grows along river banks, in grasslands and on mountain sides – freesias, buchus, pelargoniums and sages.

And what better way to welcome spring than with Rothmannia globosa, whose common name of September Bells tells of its flowering month and of the shape of its creamy-white, fragrant flowers?

Spring is also the flowering time of the wild pear (Dombeya rotundifolia), a deciduous tree suitable for urban gardens with sweetly scented white flowers that are visited by butterflies and bees. The Mickey Mouse bush (Ochna serrulata) makes an attractive garden shrub with fragrant yellow flowers in spring that attract bees and butterflies. The keurboom (Virgilia divaricata) has scented sweetpea-like, violet-pink flowers in spring to early summer.

Sagewood (Buddleja salviifolia) has dark green wrinkled leaves with a whitish underside and masses of tiny scented white to lilac flowers in spring. Weeping sage (B auriculata) has glossy dark green leaves with silver undersides and scented cream to orange flowers from July to September, and false olive (B saligna) has sprays of creamy white flowers with a strong honey scent.

If you need a scented spring climber for a trellis or fence in partial shade, indigenous jasmine (Jasminum multipartitum) is a scrambling climber with pink buds opening to sweetly scented waxy white flowers.

Aromatic shrubs that generously release their scent not only in spring, but throughout the seasons when touched or brushed against, are perfect alongside paths and gates and near seating areas. Mediterranean shrubs, lavender, santolina and rosemary are valued for their aromatic foliage.

Indigenous wild rosemary (Eriocephalus africanus) has needle-like grey leaves, small white flowers and fluffy white seed heads.

The sweet scent of the Yesterday-Today-and-Tomorrow (Brunfelsia pauciflora) blooms herald the start of spring. Picture: Kay Mongomery


The Khoikhoi used the word buchu to describe indigenous small-leafed shrubs that release an aromatic to pungent scent when touched and are used in traditional herbal remedies. The many buchus, small shrubs or sub-shrubs, each with its own distinctive scent, are an essential part of the fynbos.

Agathosma – derived from the Greek agathos, meaning “pleasant”, and osme, meaning “smell” – refers to the volatile oil in the glands on the leaves and fruit. Agathosma glabrata (lemon-scented buchu) is a single-stemmed shrub; liquorice/honey-scented Agathosma lanceolata is useful for semi-shade; and the dainty leathery leaves of Agathosma ovata have a citrus scent. Bees and butterflies are attracted to the starry white flowers of Agathosma crenulata.

Diosma hirsuta “Blue Downs” has aromatic grey-green foliage. Clusters of tiny, white cup-shaped flowers bloom from September to November. Coleonemas are sometimes called buchus and are part of the same family, but are better known as confetti bushes.

Pelargonium fragrans leaves have a nutmeg scent. Picture: Newplant Nursery


Scented pelargoniums (scented geraniums) are indigenous perennials increasingly used as ornamentals in the garden, not only for their scents, but also for their leaf shapes that may be finely cut, lacy, frilled or rounded. Lemon-scented (Pelargonium citronellum) is upright with small, curly leaves. Rose-scented (P graveolens), peppermint (P tomentosum) and apple-scented (P odoratissimum) have velvety leaves and grow well in semi-shade. The nutmeg geranium (P fragrans) has grey-green, silky rounded leaves and white lacy blooms.

The evening garden

Plants that release fragrance at sunset should be grown where their scent will drift across the garden or in pots on patios. White flowers attract night-time pollinators because they are visible in the dark and because many of the blooms are scented.

Sometimes flowers are insignificant but have a strong fragrance, as in the tiny sprays of white flowers of the olive (Osmanthus fragrans). The drumsticks plant (Zaluzianskya capensis) opens its flowers and releases its sweet scent to attract night-flying moths towards evening and closes during the day.

Alyssum has a delicate honey scent and is pretty in pots, edging paths and between paving. The aandblom (Gladiolus tristis) has creamy-white flowers that are strongly fragrant in the evening; the flowers of the waterwise shrub Gnidia squarrosa (aandbossie) are sweetly scented at night.


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