Scents and Sensibility; Choosing Plants for Perfume Is as Critical as Design; Smell Is the Most Evocative of All Our Senses So Cultivating Gardens Which Please Our Noses as Well as Our Eyes Will Double the Pleasure; GARDENING CLUB
Byline: CAROL KLEIN
Our first instinct when presented with a beautiful flower is to sniff it. Smelling something is a way of assessing it - finding out more about it.
My daughters tell me off for sniffing fruit in the supermarket just as I used to look the other way when my mum picked up and smelled apples in our local market in Bolton. How something smells is fundamental to our knowledge of it and our appreciation of it - nowhere is this more true than in the garden.
Of all the gardening topics to write about, scent must be the most difficult. How do you describe the subtleties of perfume, especially when the perception of scent is so subjective?
Because it is the most evocative of all our senses - each perfume and aroma bringing back specific memories - scent is more personal than the others. There can be common terminology to describe the colour of a dahlia, the feel of a verbascum leaf or the noise of a bee. But when it comes to how a lily smells or a tomato tastes there is no shared criterion to appraise or assess it.
Television, radio, film, the written word and the visual arts are largely scentless zones.
For our prehistoric predecessors who moved around on all fours, smell was all-important. It was not until we stood up that the primacy of our sense of smell diminished and vision took over as our most important sense.
Ask anybody which sense they would lose most willingly if they had to give one up and almost all would say smell or taste. How things change!
There is always perfume in a garden but increasing it by cultivating scented plants heightens our enjoyment a hundredfold. Exploiting perfume should be as much a consideration as design.
The more scented our gardens become, the more insects they will attract. Just as plants bear beautifully coloured flowers to attract their pollinators, so too they use aroma to announce their presence to the insects on which they depend.
We may feel privileged that our flowers, trees and shrubs provide us with their perfume but of course we are incidental to the whole business.
Even in a small space we can find year-round aroma.
Although we immediately associate perfume with the summer months - and there is no doubt that it is during the warmest days it is most obvious - even in midwinter the cold air can be thick with delicious scents. …