A whiff of pine, the peppery scent of Russian sage, the spicy cool essence of roses--beyond sight and sound, the most soothing aspect of any garden is its fragrant mix of aromas. Can sniffing a rose actually make you feel good?
Today's aroma therapists say yes, although their claims stop short of the medieval belief that flower scents cured illness. A prescription for epilepsy in the Middle Ages was to sit under a linden tree and breathe in the pungent emanation of the white linden flowers. In the 1600s, squirting scent into the air was considered protective against plague and other presumably airborne diseases.
It now seems more likely that odors affect the brain in the same way that soothing music does--promoting relaxation, a sense of well-being, and a propensity for feeling good. Scents and aromas play a definite role in the psychology of wellness.
Scents that pique some noses, however, may point others away. Such is the case with boxwood, whose strong odor may be "music" to a Southerner's nose but simply "smelly" to unhabituated northern nostrils.
Do gardens smell as good as they once did? The answer is no. Hybridization in the quest for brighter and bigger blooms has sapped many flowers of their scents: the price of this "improvement" has been made at the expense of fragrance. That's why old-fashioned plants such as heliotrope, daphne, sweet peas, violets, and common lilac are sought after by fragrance-loving gardeners. When building your scented garden, be sure to ask for the old-fashioned varieties.
A Scents-ible Selection
Build your aroma garden around a selection of plants that provide fragrance from spring through fall. You can start them indoors in late winter or seed them directly outdoors (depending on your planting zone) as early as the soil in your area permits. Of course, soak the hard seed overnight before planting: they will germinate more quickly.
For early spring plant daphne, hyacinths, narcissus, and snowflakes. Lilacs and viburnum offer sweet smells in May, followed later by delightful mock orange. Underplant with violets and sweet woodruff. June brings the fragrant-rich flowers of peonies, carnations, daylilies, Jupiter's-beard, valerian, sweet alyssum, mignonette, heliotrope, and the rich bounty and beauty of roses. …