I like to experiment and try new things in my two tiny gardens; hence I rarely grow the same summer annuals twice. I make a few exceptions, and they are all white-flowered: Begonia semperflorens, bog-standard busy lizzies and Nemesia “Wisley Vanilla”. Asked which of these I would take to my desert island I would answer, without hesitation, the latter.
Nemesias are brilliant bedding plants, but N. “Wisley Vanilla” has star quality. The plants are so hardy (they are technically tender perennials) that they normally come through winter completely unscathed both in London and Broadstairs. During a mild winter they may barely cease flowering. And then the flowers come so early and so prolifically that the plants require a haircut and short siesta mid-season. Cool summers seem to suit N. “Wisley Vanilla” perfectly, making it a great choice for UK gardens.
The plant’s outstanding quality is its scent, which I am enveloped by as I sit in the garden writing this post. It’s a light, sweet and unmistakable vanilla fragrance; not cloying or overpowering, just lovely. When the air is still (which is not often in Broadstairs) the flowers’ summertime scent permeates every corner of the garden. Breathing it in never fails to make me feel happy and content. The flowers themselves are small (about the size of a penny) and exquisitely ruffled: not too much, just enough, like a Spencer sweet pea. The lower petal is pure white, whilst the upper is flushed pink, more so when planted in sunshine. A lemon yellow eye completes the simple composition.
Personally I prefer to grow Nemesia “Wisley Vanilla” on its own, en-masse, often as cover beneath potted shrubs. The bigger plants provide a little protection from cold and wet in winter and the nemesias don’t seem to mid being lightly shaded. This year I have gone to town and planted several more plants in pots dotted around our seaside garden to spread a comforting scent wherever I might be working. Cuttings root easily if taken in spring or autumn and plants are readily found in the “basket plant” section of nurseries. Don’t be ripped off by the large, expensive pot fulls touted by big garden centre chains, there’s no need for these unless you’ve left it very late to get your garden ready for summer.
I sit here now with all my senses satisfied: a gin and tonic in one hand, the sound of collared doves cooing above, evening sun on my face and the scent of a thousand ice creams drifting up my nostrils. What could be more perfect?