Growing a garden for scent

Growing a garden for scent

Think of your outside spaces and the chances are you’re remembering how they look, rather than the scents you associate with them. It’s time to claim the garden for your nose.

Scent is so powerful because the part of your brain that handles smell is directly linked to the parts that handle memory and emotion. Nothing else can evoke or create a feeling quite like it. So, just as it’s important to consider and enhance scent inside your home, so too is fragrance a vital part of the way you experience your garden. And, in much the same way as you’d vary scents from room to room or according to the time of day inside, you can also orchestrate the fragrances of your garden to enhance the atmospheres you’d like to create.

Scents to comfort, calm & soothe

Around doors, windows and seating areas, and along those pathways you take when returning home, position plants whose scents you find most relaxing. Lavender, chamomile, jasmine, honeysuckle and rose are all likely candidates.

Choose lavender, which grows into clumps or can be arranged to create a low hedge, to line paths and the areas directly underneath windows. You can use chamomile, which is lower and spreading, to create a flowering lawn and, although too delicate for kicking a football about on, it would be lovely around a bench or underneath a hammock. Jasmine and honeysuckle are both climbers as, of course, are some varieties of rose, so train them to arch over doorways and around windows so you can appreciate their scent inside as well. There’s nothing so lovely as waking up to the scent of roses on a June morning. And a honeysuckle left to ramble over a covered seat is wildly romantic.

If you have a relaxed seating area in your garden with sofas and armchairs, consider planting the space with flowers that release their scent as the sun sets. The sweet, dusky fragrances of nicotiana, night-scented stock, star jasmine, phlox and, again, honeysuckle are all gently soothing.

While these are plants that most people find calming, comfort is also bound up in our own personal experiences and memories. So think about the plants you could choose to reflect that. It might be a pot of hyacinths whose fragrance reminds you of a grandparent. Or the greenhouse scents of tomatoes and pelargoniums (also often known as half-hardy or scented geraniums) that recall childhood summer memories.

Scents to refresh, uplift & restore

If you have a dining spot in your garden, or perhaps even a shed where you work, then choose brighter, fresher scents.

Very strongly or sweetly fragranced plants around a dining table can interfere with the food you’re serving, so this is the place for culinary herbs. Basil, rosemary, thyme and oregano are all perfect and, of course, you can also then snip leaves straight into dishes. But we’d also include the likes of mint, lemon verbena and lemon balm, all of which are refreshing after a bit too much to eat – both in scent alone and when infused in hot water as a tea.

Rosemary, mint and citrussy smells are all also thought of as energising – there have even been studies into the memory-boosting properties of rosemary – so plant them around the doors and windows of a garden studio if you have one, or even just the outdoor table where you choose to work on a warm day. As well as lemon verbena and lemon balm, try placing a pot of a citrussy scented-leaf pelargonium (such as ‘Prince of Orange’ or ‘Lemon Fizz’) out here so you can reach out and rub its leaves while you work for a hit of scent.

Extending the season

Autumn and winter in the garden aren’t as associated with scent as spring and summer are. In fact, on cold days, we can actually smell less as the receptors in our nose protect themselves from freezing. And yet, with fewer fragrances competing for our attention, our senses seem heightened.

Wood smoke, fallen leaves and the damp earth are all the smells we probably associate most closely with the colder months in the garden. But there are a surprising number of plants that flower and give off scent in the winter. Try sweet box, winter-flowering honeysuckles and viburnum, witch hazel and wintersweet. Then, place them judiciously where you’re most likely to pass them at this time of year. Around the house and garden shed, by doorways and gates and near to seating areas you’ll use year-round (just keeping them clear of the heat from firepits) are all good spots.

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