Forget the expensive candles in fad fragrances, there’s a new way to enjoy essential oils in your home and garden. We spoke to Eden Project horticulturist Catherine Cutler to learn how to design a garden that smells as great as it looks.
Plants release scents for a few different reasons, most notably to attract pollinators or to repel predators. While there are plenty of plants that don’t smell so great, there are lots of scented plants that humans find very appealing.
Utilising these scents in your garden can add a new dimension to your space. Designer of the Eden Project’s perfume garden Catherine Cutler says: “Scented gardens have got an additional layer on top. If they’re well designed then they can be beautiful aesthetically, texturally interesting, and you have the added benefit of scent which changes throughout the year.”
Whether you’re looking to grow fresh herbs along the window sill, or a balcony of balmy botanics, here are the tools and knowledge you’ll need to get growing. No garden? Not to worry - this tutorial is small-space friendly.
1. What do you want from your scented garden?
The beauty of a scented garden is that it can be customised to suit your needs - fill it with nostalgic scents, or create something a little more functional. Different plants will smell at different times of the day or year. Night-scented stocks release their sugary, vanilla-sweet aroma in the evening hours, while shrubs like the curry plant release a warm spicy scent in summer heat. You’ll be able to plant up a space that’s not only special to you, but that smells strongest when you use the garden most.
Choose a sunny spot such as a sheltered patio, balcony or courtyard as this will help to trap scents released by flowers and shrubs. Growing scented climbers over an archway, pergola or around a doorway will mean that perfume will be released whenever you brush past blooms. Finally, when planning your oasis try to space out heavily scented plants to avoid overpowering your garden.
2. Pick your plants
A scented garden doesn’t have to be just for summer. When selecting plants for your space use a growing calendar and work with the seasons. Catherine suggests some careful planning to ensure your garden smells all year round, she says: “There are lots of early flowering shrubs that are sweetly scented - Daphne is outstanding and flowers throughout the spring. Then there’s early flowering Narcissi, a gorgeous plant that is used in perfumery, and winter plants like Lonicera purpusii, which smells incredible. My top plant for a scented garden would have to be lemon verbena, but citrus also scores highly as it has aromatic leaves, flowers and fruits.”
3. Think about budget
You’ll need very little to get started. Begin with a selection of plants and make sure the spot you’re planting in has access to light and water. Herbs can be a great option if you’re trying to save money but still want to create a green space, Catherine says: “It’s something you can do on a budget, as you can get hold of herbs very easily and cheaply. If you’ve got south facing windows you can grow some of the Mediterranean herbs. If your windows don’t get much light then you may get away with plants such as rosemary as it doesn’t mind slightly lower light levels.”
The strong scent given off by herbs is thanks to the essential oils they produce, adding an uplifting green scent to your home or garden, plus you’ll be able to add a fresh twist to your culinary creations. If you’re low on space, try growing herbs in window boxes, or if you’re feeling crafty then perhaps a homemade planter.
Great for busy bees, herbs are also fairly low maintenance as they’re used to living in quite difficult conditions. After some initial TLC to help them get established, Catherine explains that they will soon look after themselves: “They don’t need lots of water in the summer and don’t need masses of pruning. Some of these plants are fairly short lived, lasting around four or five years, but that just gives you an opportunity to try something else!”
4. Give your garden the gift of time
Plants need a certain amount of time and patience to establish themselves, but the pay off can be incredibly rewarding. According to studies our attention spans are getting increasingly shorter, dropping from 12 seconds to 8 seconds - yes that’s less than a goldfish, so taking time to cultivate a green space can be a transformative and useful skill to master, helping us to build a deeper relationship with where we live.
Above all, enjoy the space you create and the wonderful fragrances that come with it. If you don’t have a space that’s suitable but still want to get your green fix then why not get involved with a local community gardening project instead?