The Perfumed Garden

By Burford Hurry I think that we can all agree that our gardens are peaceful sanctuaries, places in which we can sit, or read a book or have...

By Burford Hurry

I think that we can all agree that our gardens are peaceful sanctuaries, places in which we can sit, or read a book or have breakfast, or talk to friends and family. To achieve this effect when creating a garden, the first thing that we normally think about is visual impact – size, colours, shapes, textures and the depth of the garden. I would like to suggest that, because of its very nature, a garden should be more than a visual delight and can be experienced in other ways. Think beautiful garden', now shut your eyes and listen to the occasional tinkle of metal wind bells or the gentle clatter of wooden wind chimes, the splash of a fountain, a blackbird calling in a tree. Now, breathe deeply and imagine the perfume of blossoms in the air. These subtle elements of sound or perfume are certainly not visual but they do add to the magic and charm of your own garden.


I would like you to consider the use of perfume in the garden to contribute to this mood of peace and serenity. Many of you already have shrubs and climbers that perfume your gardens. Think perfume – think of  Dama da Noite (Cestrum nocturnum). It is the one shrub in the Algarve that has become synonymous with scent. On a walk during the height of a hot summer evening I suddenly come across a thick wonderful draught of Dama do Noite - there is one planted in a large pot at the back of the Igreja Matriz in Loule and the perfume fills the square and reminds me every year of its presence. I'm sure there are many of these cestrums in our gardens. When driving through the Algarve in late winter and early spring we have all had our cars swamped with the sweet perfume of orange blossom. Many of us too have stood under an almond tree in mid-January and noticed the delicate sweet smell of those fragile and lovely blossoms.

Then there are those old fashioned fragrant annual and biennial charmers in the garden – sweet peas [Lathyrus odoratus], stocks [Matthiola hybrids] – the latter grow so well in this part of the world. Freesias, those small highly scented flowering bulbs which flower in February and early March in many colours and the small grey leaved pinks (Dianthus) with their pungent clove perfumes to add to the mix.
A particular joy of mediterranean gardens is the wide range of aromatic herbs – mints, basils, sages, thymes and rosemary etc. Placed beside a path where movement stirs the aromas into the air, these plants have much to offer in return for very little water or maintenance. Indeed, the traditional enclosed spaces of more formal gardens are the ideal places to gain most benefit from scented plants as was well known by the Islamic tradition of garden design.  Together with cooling rills of water, cypress trees, musk roses, almonds for their blossom and jasmine, scent played an important role in enhancing the courtyard garden as a place for contemplation. Scented plants were highly sought after and valued. All the senses were involved in appreciating a garden.

If you do not currently have a walled formal garden then it might be worthwhile thinking about making a small walled sun trap, for the winter months particularly. This will radiate heat at the end of the day and promote production of fragrance from your plants. Don´t forget to make room for a bench or seat inviting you to linger.

When considering planting for scent, think in layers; low growing aromatic plants or herbs by pathways, pots on steps or stairways, climbing plants up into pergolas or on walls, also, plant under windows so that the perfumes can enter the house.

As a garden is for spring, summer, autumn and the winter I would like to suggest that we start planting shrubs and creepers that would provide our gardens with a year-round range of different perfumes. And it is really not that difficult when it comes to choosing perfumed plants as there is an extensive list of fragrant plants which thrive in the Algarve so there are lots to choose from. There is a good book by Stephen Lacey ´Scent in your Garden.

There is a short A to Z listing of some of my favourites on the web page for this article on-line, but I'm sure that you will find your own over the years as you gradually fill your garden with scent. So start planting with perfume in mind and I am sure you will not regret it.

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