Gardening: Sensual sweet scents

By Meg Liptrot

Meg Liptrot shares fragrant secrets for your garden.

Magnolia blooms emit a voluptuously intoxicating fragrance. Photo / Meg Liptrot
Magnolia blooms emit a voluptuously intoxicating fragrance. Photo / Meg Liptrot

The design of a scented garden should not be limited by the size of your section, the aspect of your site, or the theme of your garden. The creative possibilities are almost endless. Here, I've put together some ideas to get you started on a journey of the senses.

Potted garden
The heat will intensify the oils in the foliage of Mediterranean herbs and this setting suits them well. Mediterranean plants prefer good drainage and a situation in full sun. They include rosemary, pelargonium (used to be called geranium) and lavender. Some pelargonium species come with relatively insignificant flowers, but have foliage with intoxicating fragrance with notes of lemon, rose and peppermint. Try planting the citronella-scented pelargonium near your deck or veranda to ward off the mozzies during summer.

Shady garden
Daphne and Michelia cultivars possess an elevating scent with lemony top notes good enough to drink in. Daphne and Michelia flower in late winter and early spring, and enjoy positions in sun or semi-shade in humus-rich soil. Port wine magnolia (Michelia figo) has a rich, fruity smell.

Native tree ferns enjoy the damp shade and give off a subtle, musky smell of dense native bush. The scent and atmosphere of tree ferns provide sensory escapism, helping transport us to a wilder land. The silver fern (Cyathea dealbata), that we generally take for granted, is seen as a highly desirable plant in UK parks and gardens, but is not often grown in our own backyards. Kawakawa are also perfect in a shady garden. Their leaves are fragrant and peppery and make a health-giving tea.

Edible garden
Sun-warmed ripening fruit give off aromas to make the mouth water. There is nothing better than a fragrant tomato, plucked from the vine on a hot day, sliced, still warm. Add mozzarella, torn aromatic basil leaves and drizzle with balsamic vinegar and olive oil, then eat al fresco.

A laden pear tree in autumn becomes fragrant when the pears are heavy and juicy, letting you know they are just right for eating.

The leaves - not just the fruit - of citrus trees give off a depression-lifting mediterranean scent just when you need it in winter, which is the best time to prune after fruiting. The fresh aroma of cut citrus wood also attracts the dreaded borer beetle, so pruning before the warmth of spring is a must.

The quince tree is often grown for its scent and ornamental value alone. The ripe fruit give off a fragrance which is as close to perfume as a fruit tree gets. A bowl of quinces will scent your house, just as a vase of cut flowers would. You can make the prettiest pink jelly with quinces, too.

Romantic cottage garden
A cottage garden comes to life in spring and summer. All the scented classics can be found here. Heritage roses, lilies, lavender, wallflower, stock and sweet pea are synonymous with a cottage garden traditionally found (but not limited to) in the older parts of town, complete with picket fence and pea-gravel path. This kind of garden looks equally at home surrounding a farmhouse, framed with tall hedges or dry stone walls.

Formal potager vegetable gardens are complemented with the addition of cottage flower garden plantings in some of the beds and borders, turning an edible garden into a complete sensory experience. Flowers in an edible garden attract beneficial insects such as bees for pollination of fruit trees and veges. Edible gardens do best in full sun, as do many traditional cottage garden plants.

Subtropical garden
In Auckland and the warmer north our climate is ambient enough to grow interesting and fragrant subtropicals - the intoxicating scents of the Pacific. Tropicals such as frangipani can be grown successfully, particularly in large pots, which can be moved if need be during winter to a sheltered warm spot. Australian frangipani (Hymenosporum flavum), with its small golden flowers, is hardier than the tropical frangipani, and is available in a smaller-growing cultivar "Gold Nugget". Gardenia and star jasmine do well in Auckland, ornamental and edible ginger can be grown in sheltered frost-free spots, but probably are best further north. Lemongrass and Thai basil are easy to grow, bringing exotic fragrance and flavour to your kitchen.

Fabulous scents of spring
The scents of spring are fresh and clean - stand-outs are Magnolia soulangeana, boronia and bulbs such as jonquils and freesias. Hyacinths flower in winter, are happy in pots and bring the scent of spring indoors in cooler months.

Moving into summer, Magnolia grandiflora is a scented powerhouse. My grandmother had a huge magnolia we often climbed as children. The heavy waxy petals decorated the lawn below, infusing the air with their uplifting fragrance.

Some of the best-scented exotic plants in our country have become invasive weeds. Yellow kahili ginger is a no-no.

Once grown as an ornamental, it has now gone bush. The scent is divine, but if you cut some for the vase at home ensure you bin any plant material, rather than throwing it over the back fence. The same goes for fast-growing jasmine (Jasminum polyanthum) and Japanese honeysuckle.

- Herald on Sunday

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