The Scent Of A Garden
In The Garden – By Stephen and Kristin Pategas
Think back to a childhood memory. Can you think of one that strongly connects to a smell? Roses in a garden? Fruit pies baking in the kitchen? Freshly turned earth in the garden or mown grass? Olfactory receptors in the brain are directly connected to areas intimately associated with memory. It was Rudyard Kipling who said, “Smells are surer than sights and sounds to make your heart-string crack.” Stroll into your garden, close your eyes and inhale. Do fragrances invade your consciousness, tempt you to linger… explore? Let us take you on a journey of discovery about the plants that stimulate our sense of smell and the garden of scents they create.
Perfume’s origins are in the Middle East where fragrant plants such as cinnamon, frankincense, myrrh, jasmine, orange, and sandalwood grow in abundance. Many towns in the Mediterranean basin relied heavily on trade in aromatic plants. Various geographical regions have site-specific combinations of climate and soil that encourage the growth of aromatic plants just like various vineyards produce unique regional wines.
Plants produce scent for two reasons. Flowers that smell like food or sex attract specific pollinators, while aromatic foliage, bark, and roots repel hungry predators. Fragrance is unnecessary for flowers pollinated by birds (who lack a sense of smell) or by the wind. Some plants also produce scent only when a pollination payoff is likely. Moth-pollinated flowers save their strongest scent for evening hours. Scent genes are often the losers in the genetic quest for showier, hardier, and more vibrantly colored flowers. The older varieties of many flowers such as roses are more fragrant than newer models.
Like the perfumes they create, flower scents are made up of a mixture of floral notes created by the oxidation of essential oils. Small differences in the atomic structure of these compounds create a rainbow of scents – from citrus tang to the heady aroma of jasmine. Basic notes include minty (peppermint), floral (roses), ethereal (pears), musky (musk), resinous (camphor), foul (rotten eggs), and acrid (vinegar). Different odors may be released from scent glands found on petals, sepals, leaves, fruit, or stamens and pistils They blend in our nostrils when we sniff a flower. The result isn’t always appealing since some flowers specialize in attracting carrion flies.
Active fragrance plants have blooms that manufacture perfume. Note that heat and humidity releases volatile oils while air movement brings them to the nose. Create an enclosed garden with hedges, fences, and walls to protect and concentrate the scent. Place fragrant plants near areas such as benches, doorways, patios, or windows in rooms where you linger. Loquat, butterfly ginger, Arabian jasmine, orange jessamine, tea olive, magnolia, gardenias, frangipani, lady of the night orchid, or confederate jasmine will provide a scent on a breeze.
Meanwhile the passive fragrance plants require your interaction to release the fragrance. Plant thyme, chamomile, Corsican mint, Mexican tarragon, oregano, rosemary, or Cuban oregano and stroke, trample, cut, crush, and munch to stimulate the nose. Even the garden tasks of pruning and weeding can release fragrance if you are surrounded by yellow anise, Arizona marigold, basil, or lemon grass.
When designing for scent in the garden there are three important principles to follow:
- Know whether the plant releases its scent actively or passively and when it does if it is active.
- Determine if you will be in the garden actively rousing passive scent from plants or expect the fragrances to drift to you.
- Understand the love/hate relationship of scented plants. Not everyone loves the scent of magnolias, gardenias, or jasmine.
Finally, select the proper location for any scented plant to create a year ‘round garden of memorable scents.
Hortus Oasis (FL26000315) in Winter Park is a boutique garden design company specializing in residential, commercial and specialty gardens. Stephen is a registered landscape architect and Kristin is a certified landscape designer. Contact them at Hortus Oasis (FL26000315) in Winter Park is a boutique garden design company specializing in residential, commercial and specialty gardens. Stephen is a registered landscape architect and Kristin is a certified landscape designer. Contact them at 407-622-4886/ [email protected].
Credit: All photography by Stephen G. Pategas/Hortus Oasis