Gardens Scent From Heaven

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

The Perfumer’s Garden at this year’s Chelsea Flower Show got us thinking about how flower scents are often by-product of a garden design client’s wish list.  But what if you wish to make them a main focus? How can you utilise plants with a strong scent to create a garden (or part of garden) that transports you and your memories back to favourite places and times?

Perfumer's Garden was all about scent

L’Occitane’s Perfumer’s Garden was all about scent at this year’s Chelsea Flower Show

Location, Location, Location

The first thing to consider is where to locate your scent garden. The best locations are where warm air gently circulates, so smaller enclosed spaces where the scent can collect and intensify are ideal. Also consider any breezes you get as scent will of course be strongest downwind of the plants. Don’t just dot scented plants about your garden, plant little groups to intensify the smell. Here are our tips for specific areas:

  •  Grow summer scented plants in window boxes so the smell enters your house when you are most likely have your windows open. Likewise grow scented herbs in pots at your kitchen door so their fragrance fills your kitchen.
  • If you’ve got a pergola or arch, grow scented climbers. They work equally well trained around a doorway.
  • If you always sit out in your garden bench at a certain time of day, plant something that releases its scent at that time.  For example Mirabilis jalapa is most scented at 4pm as that’s when the insects that pollinate it become active (it’s common name is the 4 o’clock flower funnily enough!)  So it’s ideal for planting where you do your afternoon relaxing.
  • You could plant some low growing herbs around stepping stones so some leaves release their scent as you walk.
Mirabilis jalapa

Mirabilis jalapa is perfect for a fragrant afternoon

Winter Interest

Scent can be a real boost to the interest in your garden in the bleaker months (winter that is, not just the poor summer months of late!) Buddleja auricular will happily flower in a sheltered spot from November up to Christmas with flowers that smell of lemon. The flowers of Winter Sweet that appear on bare branches also have a lovely citrus smell in midwinter. Christmas Box is suitable for smaller gardens as it only grows 1 metre high but has highly scented small white flowers and is described as the honeysuckle of winter. Not only do Thujas smell citrusy they are very fast growing so are ideal for creating some privacy in which to enjoy all your garden scents. Rhododendron fragantissimum smells like lilies and flowers in late winter to spring.

Rhododendron fragantissimum

Rhododendron fragantissimum brings scent in late winter

A Scent Throughout The Year

Make sure to plan for sequential flowering so something is blooming throughout the season and not too many different things at once. In addition to the risk that mixed scents will not marry well together, your nose will just tune out if there are too many competing scents in the same area. Once the winter scents mentioned above have passed, it is on to the scented ornamental spring shrubs such as viburnums and daphnes and lily of the valley. Summer is when roses and honeysuckles come into their own and of course herbs such as lavender, thyme, rosemary and any of the subtly different strains of mint. Dianthus and phlox can also provide wonderful scents at this time of year. Bear in mind that it’s not just flowers that provide fragrance, lots of plants such as lavender, lemon verbena and scented geraniums have scented foliage that last after the flowers have gone.

The corpse flower

Maybe avoid the corpse flower that recently flowered in the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh, it smells like rotting flesh!

A Mood Altering Scent

Certain scents have the ability to alter our mood and evoke favourite memories in an instant. Scent has even been shown to help Alzheimer patients recognise family members. When planning your “mood altering” garden it’s a good idea to make a list of smells you like and how they make you feel so that you can try to incorporate plants with your favourite scents in your garden.
Here are some general ideas for plant combinations with mood altering capabilities:

  • To aid relaxation: Chamomile, roses and scented geraniums.
  • To energise: Lemon verbena, lavender and rosemary.
  • For quiet contemplation: Lily of the valley, lilacs and roses.
  • For children (and chocoholics): Chocolate cosmos, Chocolate daisy and chocolate mint.
  • To stimulate your senses: Jasmine, thyme and an orange tree.
The chocolate daisy

The chocolate daisy sounds like something by Willy Wonka, but Mother Nature’s done it better

Night Scents

Not all plants produce their scents during the day, night scents provide interest not only for us as we sit out on warm summer nights, but also for visiting wildlife. Moths love night scents and are attracted to a lot of the same plants that butterflies and bees love during the day. All of the following are nectar rich to provide food for hungry night insects.
An evening flowering honeysuckle such as Lonicera ‘Graham Thomas’ is an ideal choice as it is an attractive climber with a long flowering season of white flowers that turn buff yellow with age. The luminous white flowers of the tobacco plant are a star attraction for moths in the summer as are the very fragrant white flowers of Jasmine officinale. Evening primrose reserves its show for after dark (the clue is in its name) when its yellow flowers open to release their delicate scent.

The tobacco plant

The tobacco plant flowers provide a much more social acceptable scent that the cured leaves

Get inspired

There are some fabulous scent gardens that you can visit to get inspiration for your own scent garden:

  • The borders in Malleny Garden, Balerno also contain highly scented perennials and shrubs. Especially fragrant in high summer.
The scented borders at Malleny Garden

The scented borders at Malleny Garden

  •  The scent garden at Alderley Grange in Gloucestershire was designed with the help of Vita Sackville West and is open by appointment in June for charity as part of the national gardens scheme (contact The Hon Mrs Acloque, 01453 842161).
  • The West garden at Kenilworth Castle  in Warwickshire is a peaceful spot that contains the scented garden and fountains.
  • Coughton Court also in Warwickshire has the magnificent Rose Labyrinth, one of the finest rose gardens in the world.
Coughton Court's Rose Labyrinth

Coughton Court’s Rose Labyrinth

Please get in touch if you’d like some help and advice on how best to establish scented plants in your garden.

All at Vialii

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