Gardens stimulate many of our senses. Perhaps the first of these is touch when we get stung by a nettle for the first time. Later in life we may enjoy the extraordinarily soft and sensuous under-surface of the young leaves of Rhododendron macabeanum. Perhaps the taste of dandelion sap is another early mistake made in the garden. The hollow stems look like they would make a good pea shooter, but the sap has a horrid acrid taste (believe me).
The summer sounds of the garden, such as the buzzing of busy bees or the gentle complaining of the pigeon sitting outside my study window right now, are also a joy and one misses then when they are not there in the winter. The sight of a cheerful colour display or a cool green-only garden will either set us up for the day or relax us.
The smells of the garden are equally varied and not always delightful. The aroma emanating from flowers of the dragon arum Dracunculus vulgaris is not unlike a nappy that has been filled. The leaves of honey flower Melianthus major smell a bit like vomit to some of us, while other gardeners tell me that they smell like peanut butter.
While the attractiveness of smells may be controversial the power of smells in the garden in summer is not. The extra heat of the summer is just what is needed to evaporate the molecules. When Cambridge University Botanic Garden recorded 38.7oC (101.7oF) this July you can be sure that this record temperature for the UK was matched by powerful smells coming from the leaves of many of the plants, especially those from the Worlds’ Mediterranean-type regions such as southern Europe, but also southwestern Australia, and central California.
The scents produced by garden plants do not always resemble the plant that our memories tell us it should look like. Lemon verbena Aloysia citrodora smells very powerfully of lemon and yet when you run your hands through the leaves of the plant. your brain does a “sorry what?” and your memory crashes. Some plants are so strongly connected with smell that it is almost impossible to resist the temptation to stick our nose in the bloom. Try ignoring an old-fashioned rose flower such as Rosa 'Zéphirine Drouhin' or a Madonna lily Lilium candidum. Actually, beware the latter, because you could end up with a blob of vibrant orange pollen on your nose for the rest of the day. Scents can stimulate powerful memories and nostalgia. One whiff of mock orange Philadelphus and I am transported back to my lost youth because my old Mother had a large shrub next to the back door.
Gardens enhance our lives in so many ways and stimulating all five senses is one of them.
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