Ah the power of scent.
What sense conjures up more emotion, more memories and more personal associations than scent? I have had a long fascination with this sense and even as a child I loved exploring my grandmothers perfume collection, closing my eyes and imagining what wonderful ingredients went into the mix to create this magical potion. Even then I could detect the dense woody notes which smelled like a forest in Autumn and the sharpness of lemons and limes- strong in their citrusy fragrance-delighted me no end, reminding me of summer holidays by the sea. Spicy herbal scents that were grassy like basil and oregano reminded me of my late grandfather’s cheek which always had a hint of green herb with aniseed. But it was the softer scents of jasmine and rose that fascinated me the most. To me these decadent and rich scents seemed to be the ones that should be worn by fairytale princesses dressed in silks and jewels. When I inhaled these wonderful aromas I felt transported to a different world.
To this day scent has that power over me. Like many people, a good fragrance has a strong impact on me and conjures up a strong emotional reaction. Perhaps that is why I love planting flowers in the garden that are sweetly scented. This immediate positive emotional reaction we have to the scent of a flower simply makes me happy.
There are of course many reasons for this reaction to scent. Scientists have found that smelling the right scents can enhance our mood and literally, make us more happy. An example is how lavender has a calming effect on our psyche and peppermint is enlivening and boosts our mood. But, since our favourite scents vary from person to person there must be more reasons than just science for our particular reactions to scent.
Scent is intensely personal. Throughout our lifetime we collect ‘scent samples’ in our minds and associate them with memories, people and places. When we smell this same scent even years later we can still have a strong emotional reaction to this scent and be transported back to the time when we first smelled it.
Planting scented flowers in the garden is a wonderful way of being reminded every day of the wonderful sense of smell and there are so many wonderful options for scented plants. Consider this: By planting flowers for scent we are creating a space that allows you to make new personal scent memories at home.
So here are some tips of achieving a scented paradise of your own.
The first thing I would consider when planting for scent is actual location. The location of your planted specimens will dictate how often and at what times of the day you will experience the scent. For example, if there is a social place you like to lie and relax like a hammock, a seat or a bench in the garden, then perhaps consider planting a scented shrub such as the sweetly scented Philadelphus near this area. This highly scented shrub will be a wonderful one for relaxing and you will come to associate this scent with relaxation and your own space. Or, if you like the idea of the scent of flowers as you wash the dishes the perhaps consider planting some sweetly scented roses or Star jasmine directly at the window of the kitchen. This will make the chore more enjoyable and bring some scent into the home too.
After this I would consider where scented plant could be worked into your journey through the garden. Would you like to experience a scent as you walk into your garden gates for example? An idea here would be to create a pergola or archway with some deliciously scented jasmine. Along pathways is another opportunity to create some scent interest. For example, why not create series of planters with highly scented lavenders and Hesperis or Freesia for example.
Another important aspect to consider when planting for scent is the seasons. Summer is obviously the most abundant time for scent but with careful planning we can have scented plants all year round. In Spring we could consider highly scented daffodils such as Narcissus ‘Cheerfulness’ or the divine Narcissus papyraceus ‘Ziva’ in Spring. Convallaria majalis– lily-of-the-valley is another great scented option for Spring. The summer scent growing season could be extended by planting some late flowering Phlox paniculata varieties or some deliciously scented sweet pea such as Lathyrus odoratus ‘Matucana’. Even Winter has some sweetly scented plants that could brighten up the garden in the colder months. The sweet box-Sarcococca confusa is a wonderfully scented shrub with shiny evergreen leaves which look good in every garden. The witch hazel-Hamamelis mollis is another stunning specimen for Winter interest with its spidery soft yellow blooms.
Some of the best scents for the garden
Lavender is one of 39 species from the genus Luminaceae– meaning it actually belongs to the mint family and there are many cultivated species of Lavender which vary significantly in size and shape. They also come in many colour variations from mauve, lilac purples, whites and blues-all of which took wonderful mixed together in a complimentary colour scheme. When considering these shrubs from a design angle they work wonderfully interplanted within a border but they also look fantastic lining edges of pathways or patios where their delicious scent can be enjoyed as one passes them. It also looks great as an accent plant and is wonderful choice for containers and window boxes for patios and the smaller garden.
Another reason to choose one of these beauties is the long flowering season and if you plan well you can have lavenders blooming from early summer well into Autumn
Rosa × centifolia
Growing this Rose, which is also known as The Cabbage Rose or the Provence Rose, in your own garden is not so hard if you can get your hands on one. The shrub shaped rose grows to about 1.5 metres and flowers from May to July- hence it’s French name ‘Rose de Mai’. The flowers on these plants are hermaphrodite, meaning they are self-fertile. They prefer a well drained soil and can even grow in semi-shade though the scent of these beauties is most striking in sunshine. The scent is truly decadent and this is the rose from which many perfumes are created.
Where the Rose is considered the Queen of flowers, Jasmine absolute is known as the ‘King of oils’. Jasmine can be found in so many perfumes and is one of the most popular scents. In its native India, where many Jasmine flowers for perfumes originate, the flower is thought to be the flower of the Gods and if you close your eyes and breathe in the scent, it is not hard to understand why. This climbing shrub is absolutely stunning in scent and is happiest in sheltered spot where it is protected from frost.
Orange blossom -Citrus aurantium
The bitter orange tree is a resilient evergreen tree, Citrus aurantium who’s beautiful almost orchid like flowers have a stunningly strong scent. Anyone that’s ever smelled one knows the scent is almost intoxicating and so quintessentially Mediterranean. If you are lucky enough to have a glasshouse or conservatory then this tree is a wonderful container one with highly scented blossoms.
Sweet pea climbers
One of the most recognisable flower aromas is the the sweet pea or Lathyrus odoratus, which has an unmistakeable intensity of scent. Sweet, heady and decadently sensuous, the sweet pea lends its notes to many perfumes we know and love. As lovely as it is within commercial scent, there is nothing better than the fresh scent of the actual flowers. A bouquet of these flowers can soon fill a whole room with their seductive and elegant scent.
The Lathyrus flower has more to offer in the garden however than just its delicious scent. It is a very useful annual climber with a floriferous nature making it a wonderful plant to brighten up patio walls of trellises, and to bring stunning colour to the garden. The plants themselves generally grow to about 1-2metres in height and have pinnate leaves with pretty little terminal tendrils, similar to pea and bean plants. This tendril is what allows the plant to cling to other plants or trellises and they quickly latch on to suitable supports making them a fantastic plant to grow alongside roses or other perennial climbers.
A special thank you to Annette Coleman of Sligo Garden Flowers