Tag Archives: scent

The Summer garden: colour and scent

PelargoniumWhen I moved to my current home I inherited a garden permanently planted with perennial plants that just grow and grow and need little care except for an occasional gentle pruning session. That’s wonderful, but it doesn’t allow me to ring the changes now and again through the use of Summer bedding plants.  These plants are mostly regarded and treated as annuals, intended really to last just one season (although some can and do last longer – some of them self-seeding all over your garden if you allow them to).  What I love about these Summer plants is that they quickly allow me to be creative with colour in the garden, giving it a different look and feel in much the same way as changing a few accessories in a room will give a fresh new look to a space. 

Just recently we created some new borders along the edges of our terrace and now that May has come around I’m really back in my element, practising my exterior design skills, picking colour combinations of bedding plants and planting them out in the borders.  This year I’ve gone for a combination of pink and white, with an occasional accent of very, very pale lemon yellow.  My reason for picking this pale colour palette was very specific.  Our terrace was Gardening toolsnewly created this Spring and I’m anticipating many evenings spent outside, either lingering over dinner or sitting and enjoying the evening over a glass of wine.  The colour white, or anything near white will reflect back what little light is still available so that the pale flowers outside will act as tiny beacons at dusk.  If you want to be a purist and just work with white alone this can look absolutely stunning, especially when combined with silvery leaved plants against a backdrop of deep greens.    If, on the other hand, you’re looking to create the warm atmosphere of a Mediterranean garden then choose flowering plants that fall in the red / pink/ orange range. 

Another aspect of the garden worth considering is scent.  Most Summer bedding plants don’t carry significant scent Alyssumbut there are some little superstars that I think are well worth including.  Top of the list for me would be the humble alyssum.  Its tiny flowers produce the most heavenly honey-sweet scent so it’s no surprise that I’ve included many of them in my Summer planting scheme.  

The choice of Summer bedding plants is vast and the fun is in working out your own colour combinations and planting scheme.  Go to your local plant nursery, see what is available and take advice from the staff there, always bearing in mind the ultimate height and spread of your chosen plants. 

Just for quick reference, here are a few of my favourite Summer bedding plants:

Geraniums, redPelargonium / Geranium – essentially one and the same plant but they do look distinctly different.    Pelargoniums, which are susceptible to frost, have beautiful frilly flowers and unusual ‘crinkle-cut’ leaves.  Geraniums are sold as both Summer bedding plants and border perennials (plants that flower and/or grow year after year).  Some varietes have pretty, variegated (multi-coloured) leaves.  Flower colours: white, pink, red and red/orange.   Scent: The flowers have no scent but the plant itself has a distinctive and pleasant smell that always reminds me of Summer. 

I like these plants because they tend to be very forgiving and don’t mind the heat.  You won’t find them wilting at the end of a long hot day and if you forget to water them one day they won’t sulk and wither.

MarigoldMarigold:  Once so common in our gardens but I read recently that they have so declined in popularity that some varietes may disappear entirely.  Maybe it’s the colour range that puts people off because they are typically coloured bright orange.  In fact other varieties are also available from red/orange in colour through to yellow and even white.  (The very pale lemon yellow highlights in my planting scheme this year are from marigolds).  Again, they’re fairly robust little plants and have the added advantage that a few flower petals can be used to brighten up Summer salads.  I have also read that their presence in the flower border may help to deter certain garden pests.  This may be something to do with the distinctive smell of the foliage, which is in some ways is similar to the geranium.  Either way, this is also a smell that I associate with long hot Summers.

Alyssum: Only growing to about 4 inches in height, they are best placed at the front of the border.  What they lack in height they more than make up for in scent.  ‘Alyssum’ in Greek means ‘against madness’ and though I can’t vouch for that (!) what I can tell you is that the scent of these tiny flowers always, always makes me feel happy.  I have traditional white alyssum in my plant border and in pots dotted all over the garden but you may find other varieties available in pale pink, through to biscuit coloured and lemon.  This as far as I’m concerned is a ‘must have’ in the garden.

Lobelia:  Another plant for the edges of flower borders, this is also very often used in hanging baskets where it forms a cascade of small blue or white flowers.  Very pretty – and better still, it attracts butterflies to the garden.

Begonia: There are many varieties of this lovely plant growing to all different sizes.  In tropical or sub tropical climates they will go on growing.  Here in the UK they are treated as Summer bedding plants and the type I’m specifically referring to here are the miniature variety and often used as useful space fillers in Summer borders and pots.  Coming in a variety of flower and leaf colours they grow to no more than about 8 inches in height, have an abundance of flowers with deep yellow centres and healthy, fleshy leaves that make them appear particularly lush.

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Scented associations

Perfume2
I was thinking about perfume today, perfume and smells in general. I’ve always loved perfume and wear it every day. There are some lovely scents available but the ones that I buy and wear regularly tend to have an emotional effect upon me, quite obviously making me feel good in some way.

Chanel No. 5 always makes me feel expensively groomed and ready for the world, regardless of what I’m actually wearing. You might say that this is to do with clever advertising but in actual fact I’ve worn this scent since I was a teenager and began my love affair with it at a time when I don’t believe perfume advertising was even registering on my radar. Chanel might say that I’m responding to the expensive component Perfumeparts of the fragrance and their clever blending of them. That’s certainly true, but there’s no doubt that I’m also heavily influenced by memory and association. Chanel No. 5 is the perfume my mother always wore when she was all dressed up in furs and jewels to go to glitzy, glamorous evening affairs. I know I always thought how pretty she looked, but I do also remember the delightful rose and jasmine-scented haze about her on those nights. Maybe this is why, to me, it denotes ‘coiffed and groomed’?

The subject of our sense of smell, and just how important it is to us, was raised today by a Flickr friend who said that she loves the smell of creosote. I can’t say I love it, but I certainly like it. I find it strangely comforting and I think I know why. Again, I associate creosote with my childhood, a place in time where my early memories are very happy. In spring and/or autumn the garden fence panels  at our house were re-treated to keep them crisp and in good order. As this would have been done on a calm and probably mild and sunny day, you can see why the smell is one that I find pleasant, because of all those happy associations.

Art-brushesI can’t smell poster paint, plasticine or a certain type of almond scented glue without it bringing a smile to my lips as I remember the art room in primary school. (That memory is so clear to me that I’m conjuring up the smell in my nose as I’m typing this). I really hated school but its’ one saving grace was the art lessons and a chance to experiment with my creativity.

Conversely, I can’t smell the rubber compounds of sports equipment without it producing an unpleasant sensation of butterflies in my stomach because it has become intrinsically linked with the dreaded PE lessons. Almost as bad is when I smell natural gas – that instantly recalls memories of the Bunsen burners in the school’s science lab. Science to me was as incomprehensible as Swahili yet it was a requirement to do it week after week – and, despite all efforts, I was doomed to fail tests, badly, week after week.

This idea of association doesn’t always follow through however and this is where our sense of smell and how it links to our emotions becomes completely fascinating to me. Today I’m wearing a relatively new favourite scent, one that makes me feel happy every time I put it on and yet it has no associations that would make it so happily appealing to me. It’s Clinique’s ‘Aromatics Elixir’ and the very odd thing is that when I’ve mentioned how it makes me feel in the shop, the sales assistant has said that I’m not the only customer to have commented on this. Clinique advertise it as ‘touching the senses and spirit in subtle, pleasing ways’, and strangely enough, for once it seems you can believe the hype.

I’ve also read before how scent is already being used to influence customer buying patterns in shops. It’s interesting to think of how we imagine ourselves as very sophisticated creatures as humans beings and yet, like other animals, we can obviously quite literally be led by the nose.

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I wrote a piece about scent, explaining a little bit about it over at Voix Douce / Gentle Voice not so long ago.  If you’d like to read more, here’s a link.

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All about scent

Little Pink Rose

Here are some facts, pointers and advice about one of my favourite subjects – perfume.

Perfume is a carefully balanced blend of oil, combined with alcohol, essential oils and often chemical scents.   Sometimes described as having  ‘top notes’ of certain plants, this simply means that these are the scents that hit you first.  For example, Chanel No. 5 has, amongst others, top notes of ylang-yang and neroli but then gives way to ‘middle notes’ of rose and jasmine before revealing the woody ‘base notes’ of sandalwood and vanilla.  These layers are present in all good perfumes and it’s why, when buying a new perfume, you should always spray on a sample and then walk away for 10 minutes or so.  What you smell initially may delight you.  What is left after that initial spritz may be less appealing!  It’s also important to do this as perfume reacts differently on different skin.  What is great on your friend might be truly horrible on you.  (There is, for example, a perfume that I really like on other people that always, genuinely, smells like cat pee on me)!

Getting an idea of these ‘notes’ in your favourite perfumes will help guide you to new scents that you might like because fragrance falls into categories: Florals (rose, gardenia, lilac, jasmine etc.), Exotic (musk, ylang, ylang, vanilla), Spice (cinnamon, ginger, cloves), Wood (pine, sandalwood, cedar), Fruit (lemon, orange, peach) and Herbal (lavender, bay, sage).  Suppliers of perfume on the web often list the scent ingredients that make up a fragrance.  If you look up your favourite perfumes you may spot a common trend!

The purest form of your favourite scent you are likely to find available for sale will be ‘Eau de Parfum’ (EDP).  This is because the blend in its original form (Parfum) is so highly concentrated that it may actually cause allergic skin reactions.  To produce Eau de Parfum the scent has been diluted with ethanol, water or a neutral smelling oil or wax.  EDP is obviously the most expensive form of a scent because it contains, in proportion, more of the original blend of ingredients (approx. 30%) that make it smell so attractive. 

When the original scent has been diluted further it becomes Eau de Toilette (EDT) and occasionally you will find available Eau de Cologne or ‘Splash’, the weakest form of the perfume, often only containing 1-3% of its original scented compounds. 

Quite obviously these different versions smell very different and it may well be that you prefer the lighter fragrance of an Eau de Toilette.  However, if you really like a scent don’t be put off by the expense of a bottle of Eau de Parfum.  The greater concentration of the fragrant ingredients means that you can apply less to produce the same result and the scent is likely to last longer on your skin.    

Here are a few tips for applying and wearing perfume:

No perfume will last more than a few hours and so will have to be topped up during the day if you want to maintain the effect.  Pretty handbag sprays are often available of favourite perfumes.

Layering is the best way to make your scent last longer.  Use something like shower gel and then body lotion in the same range, finishing with a light spray of perfume, highlighting the pulse points.  

Pulse points on your body are areas where blood flow is closest to the surface of the skin, meaning that they stay warm – wrists, temples, backs of knees, inside elbows, behind the earlobes.  Perfume reacts to warmth by releasing more of its aroma.

For a more subtle effect, spray your perfume just in front of you and immediately walk through the mist so that it is dispersed all over you.

If you tend to stick with one perfume you can scent non-delicate, natural fabrics like cotton and linen, giving your clothes your signature scent.  Spray from a distance of 12-15 inches.  (Be very careful with this: perfume will stain silk and many synthetic fabrics).   This is not something I personally recommend by the way, simply because of the possibility of damaging my clothes and the fact that I tend to change my perfume depending on my mood and the time of year.

Last pointer, and it’s an important one.  Don’t ‘ladle’ on perfume.  Subtlety is the key. You want to drift by, leaving a delicate and enticing trail of loveliness behind you, not move along,  leaving in your wake a trail of poor asthmatics gasping for air and the noses of others kicking and screaming for mercy.

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