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SPRING IN THE GARDEN: Fragrant flowers can ‘transport us back in time’

By Ellen Presley

By Ellen Presley

Special to the Record

One of our strongest senses is the sense of smell.

It bypasses the thalamus and directly connects to the limbic systems which houses the amygdala and hippocampus areas of the brain which deal with memory and emotions. One whiff of a familiar scent can transport us back in time to an event or memory with amazing details. The fragrance of lilacs will remind me of riding to school on my bike on a sunny day past hedges of lilac - a time without a care in the world and enjoying the warmth of the sun.

When we plan our gardens, we often pay attention to form and shape, bloom times and colour, but often overlook fragrance. Whether remembering endearing memories or creating new ones, fill your garden with plants that have an appealing scent.

Lilacs, roses, lavender, rosemary, and jasmine are the most familiar plants that gardeners buy, but let me introduce you to a few lesser known but amazing plants.

The annual heliotrope (Cherry Pie) (12-24”) is a native of Peru and produces a small cluster of purple-blue flowers that have a sweet vanilla scent or others say its reminds them of cherry pie. Great for containers along the patio.

Dianthus (carnations) are the quintessential cottage garden plant, that have a spicy clove-like scent, bloom all season and come in a variety of sizes. We have several new ones this year: ‘Oscar Purple Star fragrant’ (8-10”) which has double flowers with serrated edges of light pink and a maroon­ purple centre, with blue-green foliage; and ‘Pinball Wizard’ (12”) with masses of strongly scented two-inch fully double soft pink blooms with dark pink flecks and stripes. Just amazing!

You probably would not give Matthiola Iongipetala (Evening Scented Stock) a second look. It’s a small plant with super powers: insignificant flowers and foliage by day, but at night the fragrance is powerful. Tuck it in a container and amongst your showy flowers or wherever you sit at night.

Nicotiana is another plant that has a lovely sweet fragrance that is most pronounced at night. Most are around 12” tall with the exception of ‘Only the Lonely’ which is a majestic five feet tall and the fragrance at night is absolutely intoxicating and perfect for the Moonlight garden.

Some lilies are powerfully fragrant and stunningly gorgeous: Oriental lilies can perfume an entire garden. They bloom mid to late summer and can be planted in the garden or containers.

Another old-fashioned favourite is sweet peas (6-8’), which is a climbing annual that needs support of a fence or trellis. My favourite is the potent ‘Matucana’ an Italian heirloom sweet pea that is a bi-colour of violet and deep maroon. It’s one of the first sweet peas to be introduced to Britain, in 1700 by a Sicilian monk.

Adding fragrance to your garden, takes it past the pleasant visual appeal and enhances your other senses and memories. At a time when we need to be reminded of how precious and magical the world still is, adding fragrant plants takes us back to our childhood, a special occasion, or the memory of a special someone in your life. Happy gardening.

Ellen Presley is the owner of Anderton Nursery, at 2012 Anderton Rd., Comox. Visit