Plants that provide us with sensory delights in the garden are much sought after like those that exude wonderful scent to the surrounding air. Most highly scented plants emit their perfume abundantly in the evening and overnight and the Evening Scented Stock (Matthiola longipetala) is no exception. During the day this nondescript plant, whose flowers remain closed during the daylight hours, attracts little attention. It is during the latter part of the day that the intoxicating scent, often described as spicy vanilla with an undertone of rose scent, of Evening Scented Stocks makes its contribution to the garden. The spicy cloves-like aroma drifts in the evening air and will perfume an entire garden, even a large rural one.
The plants have sturdy stems and narrow lance-shaped, silvery-green leaves and appear rather nondescript, so it’s a good idea to put them near or behind clumps of more floriferous ones to ensure that the area is attractive during the day. The flowers are small and come in subdued hues of white, pink, rose, magenta and rose. Flowers on newer hybrids can be double; one such variety is called “Cinderella.” An early-blooming hybrid, aptly called “Early Bird,” is shorter and blooms earlier than other varieties. The most common type grown in our region has single lilac and cream flowers that are formed in small clusters on the stems. The plants are quite light and airy, commonly grown in clumps of a dozen plants or so.
Evening Scented Stocks can be started indoors to provide early-summer scent. The seeds should be planted about eight weeks before planting-out time (usually mid-May) as these plants are quite cold tolerant and in fact prefer cool temperatures. During the hottest part of the summer the plants will often cease blooming. The seeds are scattered on top of a moist soilless mix and not covered. The planting tray should be enclosed in plastic to keep the planting medium moist. The seeds will germinate in seven to 10 days. When the seedlings get their second set of true leaves they should be transplanted into packs and grown in a cool location that gets lots of direct sun — a cold frame would be ideal.
The seedlings can be transplanted into the garden in mid-May even if the temperatures are cool. Plant them about 12 cm apart in clumps of a dozen plants or more. Locate them in a spot that receives direct sun and where the soil can be kept moderately moist. Evening Scented Stock is not fussy about soil type and will perform equally well in sandy loam or heavy clay soil, or even in soil that lacks nutrients.
These old-fashioned plants grow about 45 cm tall and can be used in a mixed border or planted in a patch in a vegetable garden (where their mundane daytime appearance will not be a distraction) where the perfume of their evening bloom will be able to waft over the landscape. Sticking a few of these plants into a mixed container or a hanging basket may be a good choice if evening scent is desired in a certain area.
Evening Scented Stocks attract bees and butterflies to the garden. They also prefer cool temperatures, so the plants may cease to bloom in the heat of the summer. Therefore, it’s a good idea to start an indoor planting so they bloom in the early part of the growing season and then seed some outdoors in the late spring so they’ll come into their own in late summer as the temperatures begin to cool. The soil must be kept moist while germination occurs.
Evening Scented Stocks are easy to grow, and although not a particularly showy annual, they make up for this with their perfume. When you are sitting outside this summer during the evening and the spicy aroma drifts across the garden, you’ll be so glad you included this old-fashioned flower in your planting plans. Find a spot in your garden for some Evening Scented Stocks — you’ll be happy you did!