It has been a strange gardening year so far. In my garden at least, plants are beginning to flower that have already flowered earlier this year while some spring shrubs are only coming into flower now. I’m not complaining, though, as flowers at any time are welcome. Another thing that is very noticeable this year is the beautiful scents in my garden. Such a variety of perfumes from lilies, buddleias, etc. They really brighten my days.
The concept of creating a scent garden is not a new idea but actually began in Persian palaces over 2,500 years ago. Through the ages the scented garden has gained in popularity.
The Persian gardens were made for delighting the senses and to provide spiritual sanctuary, as well of course as for their practical benefits.
The Egyptians were well known for their expertise on aromatic plants. Such was their love of scent that Egyptian kings were buried in caskets made from the fragrant and durable wood of the Cedar of Lebanon. Medicinal plants were grown in temple gardens. These were the early ‘botanic gardens’.
It was Greek men of learning such as Hippocrates (the ‘Father of Medicine’ ) who developed the botanical knowledge and skill from which future civilisations learned. Many plants are actually named after nymphs and lovers in Greek legend.
The Roman knowledge of herbs and aromatic plants came mainly from the Greeks. When they conquered Britain, the Romans brought this knowledge with them. They also introduced many plants with we are now familiar.
It was the influence of the Byzantine church that brought the idea of aromatic gardens to European culture. The flower garden was generally behind the altar to the east, facing Jerusalem. The Garden of Eden was also scented.
The Renaissance, which began in the late part of 13th century in Italy, influenced the whole of Europe in many ways including garden and park designs. The Renaissance garden incorporated roses, scent arbours, fountains, and walkways in formal designs. Knot gardens planted with aromatic herbs were extremely popular, particularly in England in the Tudor and Elizabethan ages. Also included were flowers such as sweet Williams, violas, primroses, etc.
In the late 16th and 17th centuries the Huguenots fled France and landed in England. They brought with them a vast knowledge of gardening and many new scented plants. At this time also, voyages of discovery brought new plants and fruits to Europe.
By the 18th century scented plants had gone out of fashion. This garden style was replaced by landscape design orientated layouts. This style which showed a lack of appreciation for scented plants continued into the 19th century. Thankfully, later in these years, gardeners such as Gertrude Jekyll altered the trend again and by the 20th century fragrant gardens were back in vogue.
No doubt trends will change again but that is up to us and the interest we show in particular styles.
Scented plants to consider:
• Sweet pea.
• Sarcococca humilis.
• Foeniculum (fennel ).
• Iris reticulata.
• Buddleia (mixed types ).
• Choisya ternata.
• Philadelphus (mixed types ).