Look beyond garden centre standards to these flowering, fragrant plants that love a holiday in the sun
It’s that time of year when garden centres first start filling up with tray after tray of bedding plants, ramping up for a season of summer growing. Despite often being considered terribly out of horticultural fashion, planting tropical or subtropical species such as fuchsias, begonias and pelargoniums outdoors for the warmer months is an effective way of providing a full season of interest that extends far beyond what many temperate plants, with their comparatively short flowering season, can ever hope to provide.
However, it is a shame that so few of us venture beyond traditional favourites, for any cool-weather-tolerant indoor species can be treated in the same way. With the extra light and humidity, many houseplants positively revel in a summer holiday outdoors, plus you’ll save yourself a couple of quid in the process by getting a two-in-one option. And, as these plants can then be brought indoors when the first autumn frosts are expected, they can be a more sustainable choice than buying a new batch of bedding every year.
The best multifunctional plants will thrive outdoors all summer and then continue to give you joy indoors into the depths of winter. All have a long flowering season and white flowers, so will fit into most planting schemes, and are powerfully fragrant to boot.
Probably my favourite scent of all is the gardenia (Gardenia jasminoides); I find the fragrance from its double white flowers incredibly uplifting. I sit mine in a bowl on a patio table so they can be enjoyed up close, as they tend to be small, slow-growing plants. If you are buying a new one, gently tease apart the three or four plants that have been crowded in a small pot to give a fuller, lusher appearance for retail. Most often when people find them hard to grow, it is due to the competition between over-densely planted specimens, and nothing the unwitting home-grower is doing at all. Definitely worth a second try if you have failed before!
If it is larger statement shrubs you are after, try Arabian jasmine (Jasminum sambac). If you think you hate the smell of jasmine, perceiving it as overtly sweet and cloying, please do not be put off. Arabian jasmine is a different species to the more familiar garden form (J officinale), exchanging intense sweetness for a cleaner, brighter, more refreshing note. They love the full sun of a summer patio outdoors and a bright conservatory in the winter. Keep vigorous new growth frequently pinched back to promote flower formation and also to make plants more compact.
Finally, there’s stephanotis, an exotic climber from Madagascar with bunches of trumpet-shaped flowers. You’ll find this trained on hoops in garden centres, but that is not how they are grown. The beautifully long, single strands of vine are wrapped over metal hoops for transport and retail display, but lose much of their wild Rapunzel look this way. Carefully unwind their coiled stem from the hoop and plant them in sheltered spot. They look incredible cascading from hanging baskets down fences or walls.
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