The Healing Power of Scent
I'm delighted to announce that we were selected to exhibit a long border at RHS Chatsworth from 05 to 09 June 2019! We will be working with Scottish nursery-people (Binny's Plants; https://www.binnyplants.com) and a local craftsman, Chris Barrowman (http://www.fluxworx.com) to create our exhibit.
As mental health issues affect many of us at one time or another in our lives, our border will highlight the importance of scent in emotional well- being. Smell directly influences our emotional responses, memories and physiology, driving our behaviour at an instinctive and subconscious level. Inhalation of plant extracts is known to have a positive effect on brain activity. Rose oil vapour in particular is thought to have anti-depressive, calming and uplifting properties, helping to reduce fatigue, stress and exhaustion.
Central to this border is the iconic rose. A strongly scented variety is planted in a pattern resembling a brain-wave. An abstract metal brain-wave sculpture symbolises the direct affect of scent on our brains and subsequently how we feel. Supporting the rose are plants that stimulate other senses such as touch (foliage texture, especially grasses), sight (colour and aesthetics) and sound (rustling foliage and pollinators attracted to the flowers). These stimuli work together to create a positive interaction with plants and nature.
The Rose is just one of many scented plants that can be incorporated into our gardens. In addition to the enjoyment such fragrance brings is the potential to harness the power of smell to improve our emotional well-being.
I am privileged to be involved in two community group projects at the moment. For the first project, I am devising a planting plan and approach to populating the two wildlife pond in Duchess Wood with plant . The second project is the renovation of James Street park for which I have been commissioned to design a new community garden for the space. This design will go out to consultation on Saturday 23 April. Though I cannot say too much at present, the design for the park aims for an attractive, slightly wild space that can be enjoyed by all whilst being low maintenance. Two very different projects with a common thread - wildlife.
For both projects, I am considering native versus non-native plants. Putting the overall aim of Duchess Wood to return it to it’s native state aside, I feel it would be inappropriate to introduce non-natives into Duchess Wood given it’s position in the landscape. The wood is adjacent to regenerating woodland and links to other broadleaved woodland on Glenoran Road to the west and to the north. It would not take much for vigorous plant species to widen their reach. We already see Japanese knotweed on the outer-reaches of the wood that was until recently threatening to encroach this local nature reserve. So I turn to the natives here.
The new ponds in Duchess Wood would support native plants such as the yellow-flowered Iris pseudoacorus, Filipendula ulmaria (meadowsweet), and Juncus sp. - three plant species already found in damper areas of the wood. These native species would be right at home around the margins of the pond along with Lythrum salicaria (purple loosestrife), Valeriana officinalis (valerian), and Caltha palustris (marsh marigold) . The pretty sky-blue, though sometimes pink flowered Myosotis scorpioides (water-forget-me-not) would grow well at the edge of the ponds or in shallow water. Whereas, the white water lily, Nymphaeus alba, with its large flowers and leaves, Mentha aquatica (water mint), which has spherical lilac flowers that are loved by pollinators, and Potamogeton natans, with floating leaves that are appreciated by insects, would be happier in the water. Together, these native plants would provide habitat for wildlife in and out of the pond and the oxygenating plants within the pond, such as Potamogeton natans and Myriophyllum spicatum increasing pond biodiversity.
On the other hand, non-natives combined with natives would be far less controversial for James Street community garden. This green space is in the centre of town and bounded by gardens and buildings. In fact, non-natives would be welcome here as they would extend the season. For us, we can enjoy the later flowering plants, such as Helenium, Anemone x hybrida, Eupatorium maculatum, Ageratina altissima, and Aster sp. that give such a wonderful autumnal display. And for the wildlife, the food that some at least of these plants provide long after many of our native plants have finished flowering. I say some - those that are considered near-natives (i.e., those naturally occurring in the northern hemisphere, but not native nor naturalised in the British Isles, and from at least the same family if not the same genus) are better for our pollinators than exotics according to an extensive study carried out at RHS Wisley (1). Though even exotics have their place in providing food for our pollinators.
So in short, my answer to that question - native or not-native - is yes to both, but (and it is a very large but) it very much depends on the context and the wider landscape. These really need to be considered - carefully.
Reference: (1) Salisbury et al (2015). Journal of Applied Ecology 52: p.1156 to 1164
For more information, visit:
RHS website: plants for pollinators
Butterfly conservation: plants for butterflies
As gardeners, we are manipulating nature to a greater or lesser degree, creating our perfect space to live and play in. Some do this with a plan on paper others do it as they go along. But once created, no garden is static - it changes from month to month, season to season, year on year. We are working with living organisms that grow, reproduce, and die.
And with these changes we see seedlings appear, self seeded from one parent or another, borders fill out and dappled shade cast as the canopies of shrubs and trees grow.
For some, this creates a plethora of interest and opportunity. Unexpected, but pleasant planting combinations may arise from self-seeders moving into a gap in a border or existing plants vegetatively moving around the garden; new planting conditions may arise that allow for different plants to thrive; and spaces may open up for the inclusion of yet more plants!
For others, this change creates a mountain of stress because the garden is changing beyond the original plan. Of course, no amount of planning and designing will halt the tide of change, and trying to keep it to plan will result in a lot of work.
Nevertheless, we should, no need, to delicately tweak our gardens through seasonal maintenance to prevent our gardens returning to their native form - in this country it would be woodland, to increase vigour of the plants in our care, and to keep with some kind of plan, even if it is a naturalistic one.
I feel we should embrace the expected as well as unexpected changes in our garden and see them as opportunities to create new experiences rather than hindrances to our original ideas. By doing this, we will feel more connected to our gardens and to nature around us.