Sunday, 19 February 2012

Vintage Gardening-Part II: The Scented Bower

So the garden has been cleared and the snow has finally melted and we are contemplating ordering our apple tree.  Ignoring the rather large mound of debris that was cleared from the ground and that looks ominously outside our dining room window, we are planning our planting in more detail. I know I want a wild area of herbs and wildflowers in front of the lawn that will frame our seating area, but I have another obsession. The science of scent. A science which indeed may drive some, like the unfortunate inhabitants of Grasse in 'Perfume' (Patrick Suskind) to great lengths.

My epiphany on the power of evocative smells reminds of a hot summer I spent backpacking around the Greek islands with friends. It was a summer of blue skies, turquoise sea, beautiful beaches and monasteries clinging to mountain sides. It was idyllic, the worst thing we worried about was where the ferry was to take us to the nearest beach. We did stay in some interesting places, and I think the energy of youth perhaps lent us a rose-tinted view, but we spent all day on the beach and returned with warm skin and damp hair before heading out for sunset. Amongst these islands we visited Paros, which is rather favoured by artists. How glorious to live and paint here. It is the island on the east, which is the first stop from the Athenian port of Piraeus. A barren island at first that gives way to  stretches of windswept golden sands. We stayed in a flat, where the odd cockroach congregrated, but we had a small porch with bouganvillia climbing the pillars. On our first evening we were exploring the lively capital of the island which shrugged off it's daytime sleepy stupor and there were markets and shops and bright lights shimmering on the sea front. One of my most enduring memories is from a chance encounter where the four of us were swept with a crowd of tourists into the balmy high-walled courtyard that was a world away from the hustle and bustle of the centre. Suddenly around the corner a beautiful Orthodox church facade rose with majestic arches and in the evening heat the garden was filled with the heady scent of jasmine. Scents are so evocative and as soon as I smell jasmine I am transported to a beautiful evening in Greece, standing in the peace of the courtyard looking at the stars in an inky sky.

(The C4th AD church in Paros

So I know my first and most important scent that I'll include in huge pot loads is jasmine. It also has a lovely vintage feel to it if included in flower arrangements! So here are a few more scented plants to create a year round old-fashioned scented bower, perfect for trysts and wistful wanderings, whatever your space. (Climbers and bedding plants)

Roses are the quintessential element for a timeless scent, here are our favourite varieties. You could have both a shrub and a climber for big impact of fluffy petals, or you might want to have climbing flowers of a different variety such as a jasmine or rich fragrant honeysuckle.

David Austin is a good first port of call and their 'Scepter'd Isle' or 'Gertrude Jekyll' delivers a soft pink rose worthy of a Burne-Jones painting and a knock out scent punctuated by myrrh.

In your bower you might want to include a few pots bursting with scented blooms, we recommend the delicate scents of a tobacco plant, Nicotiana sylvestris.

Flowering shrubs for winter to keep your arbour smelling beautifully might include the bush honeysuckle or Daphne bholua for sweet winter scent.

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