RHS Companion to Scented Plants


Gertrude Jekyll once wrote: “It would be a pleasant thing to know that somewhere in the garden there was a region where nearly everything was not only beautiful, but also fragrant: where, at every step, one would be greeted by some sweet scent …. ” That first step into a garden, that first sensation when the smell of the blooms waft their way into the conscious, form long lasting memories of pleasant places remembered.

For me, scent is vitally important in any garden. The early morning stroll or late evening browse, through scented bushes and flowers, are among the priceless pleasures of life, so I was delighted to see an updated reprint of the ‘Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) Companion to Scented Plants’ by Stephen Lacey and even more delighted when I discovered that the book has photographs by Andrew Lawson.

The author comments in the ‘Author’s Note’ that this is a very personal book, reflecting not just his preferences in plant selection but also his own take on scent generally. It is no surprise, therefore, that here is a very special reflection on the choice of plants, focus on scent and how we can use scent for maximum impact and specific effects.

RHS-Companion-to-Scented-Plants-lrThe first three chapters deal with Scent and the Gardener, The Nature of Scent and Planning your Garden, perfectly setting the scene for what follows. Chapters include planting with trees and shrubs, perennials, bulbs and annuals, herbs, rose gardens, and alpine, trough and water gardens.

There is a useful calendar of scent, and scented plants by habitat as well as Zone ratings and a comprehensive Bibliography.

I have to admit that until I read Stephen’s book I had never thought of arranging a marriage between two plants, one chosen for its scent and the other for its intense colour, nor did I appreciate the range of scented plants in different seasons. The author analyses the different scent ‘flavours’ available to the gardener and discusses how to use scent as an ingredient in a variety of planting schemes.

The comprehensive plant catalogue describes over 1,000 of the best plants to grow for fragrance with each entry containing concise and essential information on each.

I particularly enjoyed the chapter on The Nature of Scent from which I gleaned a lot of information I had never had time to study. For example, in selecting and blending flower scents we must know which flavours are available and which plants possess them while at the same time appreciating that there is no universal system of classification, so at the end of the day it is often a question of ‘following our own nose’.

So the author follows his ‘own nose’ in presenting us with a list of groupings to help make the job easier. Finding my way through the exotic scents, spicy scents, vanilla and almond scents and pea scents I started to grasp the possibilities for injecting smell as well as beauty into the garden. The French perfumes, rose scents, fruit scents and honey scents are covered and finally the rogue scents, those that do not seem to fit into any of the groups such as the mouse-and-sawdust of Callistemon pallidus.

The section on planning your garden is detailed with excellent planting plans beautifully painted by Kathryn Pinker. Matteo la Civita drew and helped to design the planting plans which include a paved and gravel garden; terrace with pots and planters, formal summer garden and shady garden.

RHS-Scented-Plants-sample-2Stephen Lacey has produced a comprehensive book which will act as a reliable and useful guide to scent in the garden. The range and depth of the excellent photographs bring the plants alive and one can almost smell those scents on some of the pages!

This is the only major reference work on scent and scented plants by the RHS and it is certainly one worth having on the gardening bookshelf. Another ideal Christmas gift.

‘RHS Companion to Scented Plants’ by Stephen Lacey, with photographs by Andrew Lawson, is published in hardback by Frances Lincoln – www.franceslincoln.com – at £25 (UK) $40 (US) $43.99 (Can).