From fragrant fennel to chocolate and peppermint, the unexpected smells in this garden are an evocative, sensory delight
Scent is an integral part of any garden, but it often comes lower down the list when planning an outdoor space, usually after looks and landscaping. However, the designers of The Jo Whiley Scent Garden – one of the Feel Good Gardens at this year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show – wanted to put scent first and evoke a wide range of aromas in their space. Another priority for the designers was to make visitors feel relaxed, and they did this in a very clever way. Central to the space is a wall engraved with ‘scent memories’ – from ‘woodland walks’ and ‘rain on warm paving’ to ‘fresh earth’ and ‘new leaf growth’. The idea was that this wall would stir happy associations and remind people of the mood-enhancing role of scent.
Garden at a Glance
Show RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2017
Garden designers Tamara Bridge and Kate Savill
Built by Bespoke Outdoor Spaces
When planning their Chelsea garden, the two designers, Tamara Bridge (RHS Young Designer of the Year 2015) and Kate Savill wanted to transport visitors, reconnecting them with memories using their imaginations and the power of scent. A lovely sunny border at the front of the garden provides a contrast to the dappled shade of the woodland-edge planting towards the back of the garden, which evokes the earthy smell of a woodland walk. Plants here include the foxglove Digitalis purpurea ‘Sutton’s Apricot’, which gives height and soft colour amid all the green, the white-flowering Geranium sylvaticum ‘Album’, which is ideal for shady parts of a garden, and the sweet, slightly musky scented Angelica archangelica.
A concrete low wall winds its way through the garden, and along its length are carved different ‘scent memories’. The idea for the wall came after the designers put out a request on social media, asking for people to nominate their favourite smells. ‘Baled haylage’ and ‘freshly turned earth’ were two of the top choices, along with more unusual and personal ones, such as ‘dusty vinyl’, ‘the smell of puppies’ and ‘the aroma of tomatoes growing in a grandparent’s greenhouse’.
The muted colour palette and soft, naturalistic planting allows the main focus to stay on the scent aspect of the garden, and the curved lines of the space gently lead visitors on a sensory journey.
The tall burgundy spikes of Lysimachia atropurpurea ‘Beaujolais’ add height and definition, along with the white, umbrella-style flowers of Cenolophium denudatum. The pretty Geum ‘Banana Daiquiri’ (Cocktails Series) and Euphorbia cyparissias ‘Fens Ruby’ are also shown here, along with Origanum vulgare, or marjoram, with its distinctive aromatic foliage.
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There were five different sensory gardens at this year’s Chelsea Flower Show, all named after different BBC Radio 2 presenters to celebrate the station’s 50th birthday. “Jo Whiley loved the idea and enjoyed getting involved,” says Bridge. “She even joined us on trips to the nursery.” Plant choices seen here include astrantias and lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis) for floral interest, teamed with the savoury tang of thyme (Thymus serpyllum).
Low-growing herbs such as the thyme, seen here, appear alongside footpaths, paving and next to walls, meaning every inch of the garden has been used. Using herbs on paths in this way means that the aromas can be triggered by feet brushing past them. “My favourite scent in the whole garden was from the Mentha x piperita f. citrata ‘Chocolate’,” says Bridge. As the name suggests, this has a strong chocolate and mint flavour and is great grown in a pot to be used in baking and cooking.
This lamb’s ear (Stachys byzantina ‘Big Ears’) is a mat-forming herbaceous perennial grown for its soft, white-hairy green leaves. Its silvery foliage stands out among the glossy greens of the other plants to help break up the tones in the border. A shrub rose, Rosa Munstead Wood = ‘Ausbernard’ with fruity notes of blackberry, blueberry and damson, and the strong aniseed scent of fennel add to the all-important aroma aspect of the garden.
“Within a few steps you can be submersed in your own imagination or simply breathe in the fresh air,” says Savill. “This garden showcases the power of scent and its ability to improve your mood, uplift you and make you feel good.” The woody, peppery aroma of angelica is mixed with the minty smell of pennyroyal, creating a dense, earthy scent that is both soothing and evocative.
The budded climbing rose in the centre, which is called Night Owl, has an unusual clove and apple scent, while the elegant black poppy Papaver hybridum ‘Black Peony’ provides a deep colour contrast amidst the fresh lime-green and white shades. Towards the back, foxgloves add more height and lead the way towards the shaded, woodland part of the garden.
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Here, white Allium stipitatum ‘Mount Everest’ stands out above floaty fragrant fennel. As part of the onion family, alliums can have a strong, garlicky odour which sits well when teamed with other more savoury scents, such as the aniseed of fennel. “When thinking about adding scent to your own garden, it’s important to choose the right plants for the sort of garden you have,” says Bridge. “People think shade can be a problem, but there are plenty of plants that like it, such as peonies,” she says.
People’s memories of particular aromas have been captured on the wall, and this design aspect of the garden proves how very personal the appeal of different scents can be. “We wanted to include aromas that transport you to a time and place. Unlocking these memories through scent can allow you the freedom to escape, but at the same time reconnect with yourself and the world around you,” says Bridge.
What scent would you like to add to your own garden? Share your ideas in the Comments section.