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A garden of the senses

PUBLISHED: 11:39 05 November 2013 | UPDATED: 11:39 05 November 2013

The cottage garden style will never succumb to the dictates of passing fashion

The cottage garden style will never succumb to the dictates of passing fashion


Paradise on Earth is easily attainable if you want it badly enough

Many of us have childhood memories of gardens of some sort or another: the flash of a goldfish, the scent of a rose, the splash of a fountain, a dew-beaded spider’s web, clandestine raspberry raids, eating raw peas straight from the pod or stroking the furry leaves of ‘lamb’s ear’. A garden that manages to encompass all these senses is a truly successful one.

Choice of plant is, of course, subjective. We all like different things but when it comes to flower colour the only one I have a real problem with is strong or ‘acid’ yellow which can be difficult to site during the summer months for some reason. Yellow is difficult to avoid in the spring with the advent of the daffodil, forsythia, and winter aconite, and in the autumn when herbaceous perennials especially can be mixed successfully using other yellows (heleniums), reds (rudbeckias), purples (dahlias like ‘The Bishop of Llandaff’) and even blues (Aster ‘Little Carlow’). It’s funny to think that gardeners in the UK only became widely colour conscious during the 1980’s when the ghost of Gertrude Jekyll, the leading light in colour coordination at the turn of the last century, started to whisper from the grave.

Having said that, one of the most free and gay (in the old meaning of the word) of all floral expression, and one that casts dogma to the wind, is the spontaneous cottage garden style which will never succumb to the dictates of passing fashion. Purple irises, orange poppies, yellow daisies and bright red annual all stand cheek by jowl and revel in every glorious moment.

Gardens should always include evocative scents. The scent of the tall white tobacco on a balmy, late summer’s evening, that special smell of rain after a bout of dry weather, wet moss, bonfires, lavender, violets and freshly mown grass all have a magic of their own. Us humans, the cultivators, the tamers of Mother Nature, have the upper hand. We have no excuse not to have scent in the garden all the year round. Winter-flowering shrubs are often highly scented and these include sarcococca (winter box), mahonia, chimonanthus (winter sweet), witch hazel and Viburnum farreri. That delicate scent of Iris unguicularis as a cut flower in a vase indoors adds a magic to any room. So, we should not despair as we enter into winter.

Just close your eyes and think of all those spring scents of lilac, hyacinth, primrose, wisteria, stock and daffodil. In March the heavy scent of Daphne odora, a shrub perhaps best planted in a protected corner where its glorious smell can be trapped on a still day, pervades the garden. There are so many other star performers, not forgetting good old common jasmine (Jasminum officinale), an incredibly useful climber well suited to a cold, North-facing wall or fence. Remember in the spring to sow seed of night-scented stocks, a remarkable unshowy little plant with really quite boring little flowers that give off a magnificently strong scent.

Then there’s the ritual of plunging your nostrils into the large, double, red flowers of Peony rubra plena as a reminder that summer has finally arrived. When I smell this flower for the first time I am transported to another world, heaven perhaps, or how I imagine it to be. No self-respecting garden, surely, is without roses in this country, although I see little point in growing them unless they are powerfully scented. In my vegetable garden I have included picking roses that include ‘Princess Alexandra’, ‘Graham Thomas’, ‘Just Joey’ and ‘Brother Cadfael’. Add ‘Celestial’, ‘Conrad F. Meyer’, ‘Empress Josephine’, ‘Fantin Latour’, ‘Mme Hardy’, ‘Maiden’s Blush’ and ‘Souvenir de la Malmaison’ to your list of exceptionally well scented bush roses. ‘Etoile de Hollande’, ‘Guinee’, and ‘Compassion’ are just three strongly scented climbers.

Some plants can be stroked. The furry feel of the inside to a broad bean pod or the leaves of Paulownia tomentosa, the waxy petals of Magnolia grandiflora, the cold, smooth, freshly revealed, white trunk of Betula utilis var. jacquemontii are all deliciously tactile. Music is an essential ingredient to a garden, something supplied gratis by Mother Nature in the form of bird song. The gentle music of moving water can easily be achieved with the advent of small solar pumps or the more powerful electric submersible ones. Some plants rustle in the wind, one of the ‘chattiest’ being bamboo. Finally we should cater to exciting tastes, with arbours dripping with grapes, a plum against a sunny wall, a patch of strawberries in the border, perhaps a blackberry trained over the potting shed.

Paradise on Earth is easily attainable if you want it badly enough.


This article by Sir Roddy Llewellyn is from the November 2013 edition of Cotswold Life magazine.


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