Innovative architect Laurie Chetwood and garden designer Patrick Collins, who together created the Gold medal winning Perfume Garden at Chelsea last year explain how...
Gardens have the amazing potential to arouse and stimulate every sense. They are one of our most accessible and important environments, as they are able to improve the lives of people of all ages and abilities. They are sanctuaries, oases of calm and places to escape the stresses of modern-day life. Gardens and gardening can be one of the most pleasurable ways to enhance learning and improve our sense of well being.
When designing a garden it is not just the plants that need to be considered, as the planning and layout will determine how it is used and the effect it has on our emotions. The crunch of a gravel path, the shade from a pergola and the feel and smell of a healthy soil enliven our senses and enhance our experience of the garden.
Scent should be an integral part of any design, and when selecting a particular plant, its aromatic qualities should be considered along with colour, texture, size and form. Plant associations are also important; you can experiment and combine scents within a garden as you would a perfume
Plants with fragrant and aromatic leaves – such as thyme and camomile – also have a valuable role to play in a sensory garden. Used next to paths and seating areas where their leaves will be disturbed, they will fill the air with their scent.
The scents that are given off by plants come from the volatile essential oils found in their flowers and leaves, many of which have a vital role to play in aromatherapy. The intensity of the fragrance will vary depending on the life cycle of plants and the environmental conditions they’re planted in.
One of the most important features of a sensory garden is a tranquil and sheltered setting where the fragrances can be truly appreciated. Too much of a breeze and the fragrances will be lost. A sunny corner is also a ‘must have’ in any sensory garden, since many of the most fragrant plants, such as rose and lavender, are sun lovers. That is not to say that a shady garden needs to miss out, as species
such as lily of the valley, christmas box, big root geranium and even some species of rose, such as rosa alba semi-plena, are all happy in a degree of shade.
Scent is often associated with older-style cottage gardens. Bringing scent into the 21st century has a lot to do with plant associations. For example, deep red flowering roses like R. ‘Munstead Wood’ contrast extremely well with the feathery foliage of purple fennel.
Ornamental grasses can also act as excellent foils to some of these more traditional species. Their contrasting forms rustle and sway gracefully in the wind and give a contemporary feel to the planting.
Plants that stimulate our senses are often excellent at encouraging wildlife and at increasing biodiversity. This in turn enhances our experience of the garden and the natural environment, bringing great benefits to our health and quality of life.