The Scented Garden

By Dr Rachel Petheram

Understanding Scent In The Garden & How Best To Use It

The Scented Garden Expert is a new MyGardenSchool course by Dr Rachel Petheram. Rachel is a florist and a gardener who grows her own flowers. In her new course she shares her knowledge of growing scented flowers for cutting and her love of fragrance in the garden. Few of us can resist a frilly, fragrant bunch of sweet peas or deliciously scented velvety rose. However we don’t choose the plants we grow for fragrance often enough.

2 Rosa gallica versicolor (1024x683)


I grow masses of scented flowers in my cutting garden. For me, scent is just as important as colour texture and form both in a hand-tied bouquet and in the garden. Scent has the ability to take us back to a forgotten moment in our past and to remind us strongly of people and places. I think of my mum every time I smell lily of the valley or of my grandad when I smell tomatoes in a greenhouse - we will all react to particular scents which conjure up places, people and the past.

3 May flowers 064

The reason that scent does this to us is because, of the five senses, only our sense of smell is linked directly to the limbic lobe of the brain, our emotional control center. Fear, anxiety, anger, passion, love, hate and joy all emanate from this region of the brain and can be directly influenced by scent.

This explains why scent is a powerful tool for bringing back memory or eliciting an emotional response. No other sensory system has this type of intimate link with the emotional centres of our brain. It is particularly important for me as a wedding florist to ensure that I have plenty of scented plants to use – often weddings can be very overwhelming and couples may not notice all the details of the flowers around them but they will remember the scent forever!

4 Sweet peas

As well as bringing back memories from the past, scent has been demonstrated in many studies to have a profound effect on mood and behaviour so we can use scent to help us to relax or to re-energise.

As a scientist I find this fascinating and we can use this to really good effect in our gardens. So as well as creating a space that is beautiful and sensual and fragrant we can actually create a space that is therapeutic too. By understanding the effects on our mood and physiology we can really plan a space that works for us.

5 July flowers

There are many lovely scented plants to choose from and in the summer there is an overwhelming choice; my particular favourites are mint, sweet peas and roses and in fact I have these growing together in a border so I can easily harvest them to make a highly fragrant bouquet – this way you get the benefit of the scent in the garden AND in the house. But I think fragrance really comes into its own in the winter and early spring. I absolutely detest dark short days so fragrant plants are a great way of dispelling winter gloom.

6 Chimonanthus praecox (1024x940)

A high proportion of winter flowering plants are highly scented and sometimes just a sprig is needed to fill a room with scent. Sarcoccocas (sweet box, Christmas box) are evergreen shrubs and produce beautifully scented white flowers. Winter sweet, (Chimonanthus praecox), witch hazel (Hamamelis mollis), viburnum x bodnantense 'Dawn' and the winter honeysuckle, Lonicera x purpusii all have glorious fragrance and remind you that there is still something lovely flowering even in the depths of winter.

7 Sweet peas and roses

I am really hoping that through this course I can share my love of scented plants but also give some useful tips about how to make scent work best for us in the garden. I have tried to make it as comprehensive as I can by considering how scent affects us, how to make sure it works in the garden by designing our spaces as best we can and then some ideas for scented plants in the garden. I always have my florist’s hat on so many of the plants I talk about are great for cutting too.

Further Study

The Scented garden

Dr Rachel Petheram

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