Did you know that some of our garden flowers are exactly the same as many of the botanicals used for expensive cosmetics, perfumes and beauty products? When you wander around a scented garden, blushed with the deep rich fragrance of flowers, you can see what inspired some of these companies to bottle these amazing scents. The extortionate prices of some essential oils are generally due to the complex processes involved in extracting their essence. Some, such as rose oil, is present in such minuscule amounts that a bathtub of petals will generate a teaspoon of precious rose oil. Other plants offer perfume ingredients from leaves, such as coriander, cedar and bay. And some offer ingredients from their roots such as ginger. But it is the flowers that take centre stage, offering a pretty and fragrant addition to the garden. Here are five easy to grow flowers, that will fill a garden with their heady scent and beauty and that are also used in industry.
The floral scents of a fragrant rose are simply divine and yet some roses have no scent and there are a wide variety of floral notes in those that are. The classic rose for perfume is Rosa x damascena, a rich, bright pink damask rose with a clean floral scent. But others such as Rosa centifolia, with its softer pink flowers, have a fresher, cleaner fragrance. If you are planting a new rose in the garden, choose one that is fragrant to add an extra dimension. On a warm sunny day the soft fragrance of roses can transform even the most modest space. Read about rose expert Michael Marriott’s favourite roses, many of which are scented.
Revered for its calming, relaxing scent, lavender is one of the most popular plants grown for its fragrant essential oil. Vast swaths of its purple-topped flower spikes cover fields across Europe where this precious essential oil is distilled from its flowers. Garden grown plants can generate bowls of dried flower heads that retain their perfume. While they make an interesting addition to shortbread and ice cream, it is the powerful and relaxing sleep inducing effect that many seek. For the very best fragrance grow Lavandula angustifolia. Or look out for the fabulous lavender variety used by the perfume industry, Lavender ‘Phenomenal’ it’s extra fragrant and a great garden variety too.
Some plants emit their intoxicating scent in the evening to attract moths and other nocturnal pollinators. Honeysuckle is one of those plants, filling the garden with its rich, musky exotic smell as the summer sun starts to drop on the horizon. It’s a common hedgerow plant with pretty white flowers that turn a rich, almost orange-yellow before they drop. Plant it within a garden hedge, with its feet in the shade, but where the flowers can bask in the sun. Ideally on a west facing wall or fence so that it gets the last rays before dusk and the evening warmth will help release its exotic, heady fragrance. If you can position it nearer the patio or garden bench then that’s even better and will allow you to sit awhile in it’s perfumed presence with a chilled glass of something delicious.
Otherwise known as garden pinks, the clove scented dianthus can be easily grown in pots and planters around the terrace, patio or even on a balcony. Just a handful of their flowers will exude a strong, clove-like fragrance that pervades the garden especially on warm summer days. The plants are relatively small, forming a cushion of blue green leaves that is seasoned with flowers in midsummer. There are lots of fabulous varieties, but choose the most scented which includes Dianthus caryophyllus.
If you grow geraniums in your conservatory, greenhouse or garden you will know the strong fragrance that is released when you touch the leaves. Strictly speaking these are pelargoniums and many play an important role in perfume and fragrance, giving them the friendly name of smelly pellies. Pelargonium tomentosum has a deep, minty smell, while the more commonly known Pelargonium ‘Attar of Roses’ unsurprisingly smells of, well roses of course. It’s quite uncanny but when you rub the leaves the scent is unmistakable. It is sometimes used to flavour cakes and ice-cream. Get our Scented Pelargonium Ice cream recipe here. Another pellie favourite is the species Pelargonium sidoides whose leaves are used to make the popular rose geranium oil used in cosmetics. Remember that these plants are not hardy and need to be protected from frost overwinter.