Scented Gardens

It is the blue hour, and you are walking down the street, when suddenly your nostrils flare as some exotic scent drifts in on a breeze. In that moment, you are captivated and begin the search for the elusive scent. You walk down one street and then another, the scent growing stronger, until you turn the corner, and there it is: an orange tree in full bloom. You take a deep breath, drawing the smell deep into your lungs, and for a few minutes it is just you, the darkening sky, and the sweet smell of the blossoms.
Scent is the ultimate time traveling magic carpet. Which of our other senses can transport us in a heart beat to a time 20 years ago, or a place, thousands of miles away? I can still literally remember my first kiss whenever I smell Pert Shampoo; it was the smell of the boy’s hair when he kissed me in Golden Gate Park, oh so many years ago.
Scent is also the most primal of our five senses. From the beginning of time, we have used this sense to gather information about our environment. Not surprising, this sense is no longer as strong as it used to be before we became so ‘civilized,’ but it still serves us regularly in a thousand different ways. Though it is believed that we can discriminate between some 4,000 and 10,000 different odor molecules, there are still many unknowns about precisely how the process works. Like the sense of taste, when we smell something, we are actually taking in airborne molecules which travel through a complex set of receptors and cells that comprise the olfactory system. This path leads to the ancient portion of the brain that is concerned with emotion, pleasure, and memory.
The use of plants to heal the body, the mind, and the spirit has been around for thousands of years. Ancient civilizations used aromatherapy to enhance their physical, psychological and spiritual well being. And scent has been attributed to influencing everything from warning us about our environment, to providing clues as to why we are attracted to our partners, to improving our creativity and focus. Thus we can begin to see the subtle, yet powerful opportunities that exist when we begin to consider weaving scent into the tapestry of our gardens.
So as you contemplate your garden, ask yourself: Do you want to create a meditation garden, filled with calm relaxing scents? Do you want to be transported to the tropics, with their mysterious sultry aromas? Or perhaps you want to be invigorated and stimulated by the scent of pungent herbs. The possibilities are as limitless as your imagination.
One last thing to consider is the way plants exude their odor. There are two basic categories: the first is a scent that is released from a blossom. Nature deliberately uses this method to attract pollinators to the flowers. And like the graceful butterfly, or the busy bee, we are attracted as well. The second method is the plant that exudes its odor thru its foliage. Think of the pungent odor that is left on your fingers after you rub rosemary or the fragrance that wafts in the air as you walk along a path of scented geraniums. In choosing the plant, the way it releases its scent will influence their placement in your garden.
To get you started, I’ve provided you with a list of some of the many delicious possibilities.
Exotic Tropics: Usually sweet, slightly musky, and delightfully mysterious, scent comes primarily from blossoms – a sensual invitation to indulge. Night Blooming Jasmine (Cestrum nocturnum), Angel’s Trumpet (Brugmansia), Citrus, Honeysuckle (Lonicera), Heirloom Roses.
Herbal – fresh, invigorating, lifting the spirit, a splash of sunshine that makes you smile. The scent primarily released thru the foliage. Any of the herbs: rosemary, thyme, oregano, lavender, lemon verbena, or the scented geraniums (Pelargonium).
Windswept Bluffs – tangy, pungent, filling the lungs with a taste of freedom and the search for adventure. Oddly enough, many of these plants are found in our local Southern California mountains: Wormwood (Artemisia), Sages (Salvias), California Lilac (Ceanothus), Copper Canyon Daisy (Tagetes lemmonii).
And like nature herself, there are no rules, only considerations. That is what is glorious about a garden. It is a place to play, to explore, to experiment. Your scented garden does not have to be limited to one category. Mix them up, place them in different parts of the garden: Herbs as you walk along a path, night blooming jasmine outside your bedroom window, salvias at the entry gate. Then bring the scents inside with cuttings: sprigs of honeysuckle on your dresser, fresh basil on your tomatoes, or a rose on the pillow of your love. This is nature’s abundant gift to us – relish it, rub your skin and soul in it, and then breathe deep and enjoy.

Poetic Plantings
Landscape Design