ESPA Senses: The role of Scent in Garden Design
Rosie Nottage is a noted garden designer who is currently designing a sensory garden at Hampton Court Palace
Scents are evocative. They take you to places and experiences deep in your memory. People often ask me to plant roses for them because the scent takes them back to the first garden they smelt them in.
A garden’s perfume doesn’t just come from the flowers though – it’s in the oils in leaves and bark resins that release scent as you brush against them and the smells of hot stone, bonfires, moss, cut grass and mulching leaves. A flower’s role is to be the punchy top note, atop the layers of dirt and decay.
Because a scent’s ability to switch on emotional reactions is so powerful, you can plant a garden to induce virtually any emotional state.
In my work, depending on the type of garden I’m designing, I use scent either to energise or to calm. If I were designing a garden to energise, I would use plants that gave off stimulating, fresh smells such as fennel, mint, basil and lemon.
If I’m designing a garden to calm, I concentrate on the sensory elements, the things that allow people to unwind. A lot of my clients lead busy city lives and their gardens need to be places of refuge at the end of the day. An evocative fragrance makes people check their pace, lean into a flower and spend a moment to inhale. The way it affects our breathing – encouraging us to take a full, deep breath – is part of the relaxing effect.
The smells would be subtle – a hint of lemon balm or thyme in the air, soporific lavender, sweetpeas with their beautiful vanilla scent or a camomile lawn where the delicate perfume is released from the leaves as you walk on it – and the colour palette would be muted.
Nighttime adds another wonderfully mysterious and calming dimension to gardens – shadows play tricks on us, our senses are heightened and moth-pollinated flowers come forward to perfume the air. For me, you can’t beat Euphorbia mellifera with its honey smell and Brugmansia, or Angel’s Trumpets, both of which ‘switch on’ at about 7pm. Brugmansia, in particular, is a showstopper – intensely sweet and seductive.
Scent is the magic ingredient in a garden – it’s what makes it such a sensual place to be, adding that extra dimension to the visual.
A garden’s perfume doesn’t just come from the flowers though – it’s in the oils in leaves and bark resins that release scent as you brush against them and the smells of hot stone, bonfires, moss, cut grass and mulching leaves.