My favourite scented standard shrubs for containers

I love a standard shrub - stop reading now if you don’t!

The lilacs I love and adore

The lilacs I love and adore

I love the slightly cutesy, Alice in Wonderland air they give off, the lovely cloud-on-a-stick thing they do, and the fact that they resemble lollypops. A standard ‘tree’, depending on what it is, can give your garden, or entranceway instant gravitas or glamour, or silliness. They provide a second storey in a layered planting scheme - something to fill the space between flower-bed fodder and trees…but most of all, I like to use them in pairs, to flank a walkway, or entranceway where they give me a Beyonce feeling, as if there were two gorgeous extra people in my wake…as if I HAD a wake!

Lilac (Syringa meyeri ‘Palibin’)

I’m writing this as my lilac standards are in full bloom (and yes, they were the catalyst for this post). Every year I get loads of questions about these two lilac standards. I bought them many years ago, from an advert in the back of a sunday supplement (you know the kind, where you can also order pale grey shoes and permanently pressed trousers if such things appeal). Anyway, They arrived as nothing more than a few leaves atop a stalk and I planted them without much hope for glory. But glory came, and continues to come, in abundance. The variety is Syringa meyeri ‘Palibin’, which blooms each May with tiny, pale lilac flowers which pump out the most delectable scent. I have mine planted in two large barrel pots, but for the first few years of their life they lived in such smaller ones and were shamefully neglected (I mean I let them dry out a LOT when I was new to motherhood etc). They have forgiven me though. These would look totally awesome repeated ad infinitum in a courtyard garden, or indeed in groups of two flanking a pathway. Oh the joy.


I do love a buddleia…and so do the butterflies, but goodness they can put on some serious weight if they decide they like you, and obliterate everything else in sight. This makes them an ideal candidate for standard life, preferably in a container, where they can be, well, CONTAINED…(although of course, there’s no accounting for seedlings!). Again, we’re talking about something that will be bare over the winter and again, that’s fine, because a standard, even when bare, has structure, and can always be covered by a net of fairy lights over the winter. This is the ultimate wildlife friendly plant, pretty much indestructible and DEEPLY beautiful to boot. If I didn’t have so many populated pots I’d be plumping for one of these pronto. Oh and then there’s the scent - like a pot of honey on a warm afternoon. Mmmmmm.


I’m going to be quite honest here and say that this plant probably wouldn’t get a look in in its unfettered, unclipped form; it will grow to extremely unruly proportions unless you keep well on top of it and, because it only has a moment of glory, and because that moment is a YELLOW one, having it as a standard is really the only way a forsythia and I could ever be friends, but WHAT friends! I am totally against a mass of twigs with yellow on top (which is how most of us experience forsythia) but oh boy am I here for a lovely lollypop of twigginess which turns into a sizzling lemony explosion every spring! Imagine twelve of them all the way up your garden path! The utter joy of that almond fragrance, and the zingy colour hit, just as we emerge from a long winter. Again, when I get my gigantic garden in the sky, these will be on my list.

x Laetitia