What better way to receive the aromatherapeutic effects of herbs, flowers, trees and grasses than directly as nature intended? Even moist earth smells wonderful, especially during hot weather, when the first summer rains fall on the parched meadows causing the soil to release its enigmatic fragrance. Then there is the scent of honeysuckle heavy on the air of a sultry summer’s evening, the velvety perfume of the old-fashioned crimson rose, and the cooling fragrances of pine, cedar and cypress after rain. At such times we instinctively breathe more deeply in order to experience the scent fully – and the more deeply we breathe, the more relaxed and in harmony we feel.
If you have a garden, you may wish to take up the art of garden perfumery. Just as you learned to create a mood-enhancing perfume composed of essences resonating from the three spheres – top, middle and base – you can create an ethereal garden whose individual scents merge into a veritable symphony of fragrance.
The top notes are those that you can smell from a distance, such as the mock orange blossom (Philadelphus) whose sweet scent is reminiscent of the essential oil of neroli. Then there is the beautiful fragrance of wisteria, and the opulent scent of alyssum. The middle notes are those flowers whose fragrances smell the same close up as from a short distance. These include lavender, lily-of-the-valley, roses and bluebells. The base notes are the resinous, earthy, woody or musky aromas, which are present in the wood and needles of conifer trees such as pine and cedar, and in aromatic leaves such as the musky angelica, or in fading lilac blooms.
A few flowers are possessed of a certain enchantment, for their multifaceted scents shape-shift according to the time of day. Good examples are summer jasmine whose fragrance is softly sensuous in the afternoon, becoming warm, erogenic and intoxicating by dusk, and honeysuckle, especially the wild version whose country name is woodbine. Then there are those flowers whose complex scents smell quite differently close up than when caught as a faint whiff on the breeze. The mock orange blossom is one, but especially the tiny mignonette whose modest appearance belies her voluptuous aura.
Even if you do not have a garden, there is no need to forego the delights of living fragrance. Quite a few scented plants are suitable for growing outside in window boxes, or as house plants. Sweet allyssum, candytuft, jonquil, virginia stock and wallflower plants, for example, can be grown successfully in window boxes. Brunfelsia, gardenia, heliotrope, hyacinth, jasmine, easter Iily and miniature rose plants are suitable for the house. Most are easily raised from seeds or bulbs, or can be obtained as young plants from nurseries and garden centres.
If this has stirred your imagination, the following tips may help in creating an aromatherapeutic garden with two distinctly different themes: a secluded garden of tranquility and an open garden of frivolity.
Garden of Tranquility
Create this in a secluded spot in a quiet corner of the garden, perhaps with a seat surrounded by soft foliage plants and gently arching branches. A semi-shaded place in which to escape from the hurly burly pace of life – a place where you can simply sit and stare and restore a sense of harmony to body and soul.
Even though many fragrant plants need to be grown in full sun, there are some exceptions, one spectacular example being the lovely nicotiana or tobacco plant which will emanate a heavenly scent if grown in semi-shade. If you wish to experience a wider variety of fragrance, ensure that the garden seat is positioned in such a way as to allow you to see and smell other scented plants growing in a sunny spot nearby.
When choosing fragrant plants, it is necessary to ‘play it by nose’. While some people find the lingering scents of honeysuckle, jasmine and white lilies sedating, others find such perfumes overpowering and even nauseating if inhaled for too long. Even if you are relaxed by richly scented blooms, you could perhaps compromise to enable others of a weaker constitution to enjoy the area as well. In which case, opt for light, airy fragrances such as lavender, bluebells and softly scented rambling roses. But what about colour?
Colour therapists tell us that green is the colour that flows through the solar plexus. It helps to allay anxiety and brings about peace and well-being. Since green is the predominant colour of nature, no wonder communing with plants can bestow tranquility to the frenzied and uplift the spirits of the downhearted.
Gardeners have always been aware of the healing powers of nature, the freeing sensation of coming close to the earth. When seeking to capture serenity, the creative gardener is drawn to plants whose colours, shapes and scents whisper but never shout. So the planting scheme most conducive to relaxation is one which emphasises cooling blues and purples, perhaps with a tinge of rose-pink to warm the heart, and a drift of white or cream to lift mood, unscented foliage plants such as ferns and ivy and also delicately painted flowers like larkspur, campanula, love-in-a-mist and columbine have a place too, as does the curiously beautiful passion flower. Any of these can be incorporated to enhance colour and form.
Of course, the flowers suggested here can only be a rough guide because you will need to discover which plants are suitable for your own garden with its idiosyncratic features, soil quality, climatic conditions and available space. A good gardening book is essential.