Our gardening editor, Carolyn Ernst, takes time out to ‘smell the roses’ along with an array of other fragrant horticultural possibilities for making your garden an olfactory treat.

After some evaluation of the past year I have come to realise that I need to take time to ‘smell the roses’. So it was with this in mind, along with a late afternoon walk around the garden looking for a lost something (have you ever noticed how much more of this you do the older you get) that I noticed the heavy perfumes that were in the air. These two things have inspired the topic of this article.

Now anyone who has read any of my other articles will know the importance I place on the three esses, Sight, Sound and Smell. Well that afternoon, the air was heavy with different perfumes and it was a little bit heavenly really. It was delightful, while the evenings had just started to warm to those beautiful tropical balmy nights that we all read about, the added bonus was special.

As our gardens become smaller, and some may just be a balcony or less, the need for our plants to be more than just pretty faces becomes more important. You might only have room for some herbs that you can use for cooking but remember that most of them have a beautiful and delicious aroma, it might just be when you brush past them or crush the leaves but for many it is the release of the essential oils on a warm summer day. Herbs have been grown for their smell and various other properties since man first began tending gardens.

In very small gardens each and every plant has to be special and when you start reading some of those interesting gardening books and magazines that are available or surfing the web, it is fascinating to discover the alternate uses for some of them. From medicines, to dyes and insecticides the uses of some plants fills pages of literature.

To focus on just one of these properties, their perfume or as I say, smell; just about every family of plants, trees, flowers and orchids have members that smell. Now a word of warning, you do have to be careful in your choices because there are some that really do smell and in this sense I mean awful – horrible in fact. Some of this is very personal, some are just plain horrible to everyone, but some are lovely to some and horrible to others. One of these is Boronia, most people consider it a delightful aroma, but after a terrific experience as a child, being on a full school bus seated next to another child taking a huge bunch of Boronia to the teacher, it was only my strong will that prevented me being overcome by their intense smell, and I have never got over it. I asked my Mother to never plant a Boronia in her garden, she agreed but years later she thought that I would never know if she planted one and was amazed when I next came home from boarding school and was standing on the front veranda when I asked her where she had planted the Boronia, she had thought she would trick me by planting it in the furthest corner, but I was not fooled, I could smell it.

In one of my earlier articles I made reference to one of my mistakes, the perfume of the very ordinary flower of the happy plant, planted next to my house, it is too overpowering, it fills the house and there is no way to get away from it.

The point is, perfumes are good but be careful. One should not be surprised by the differences in how we smell or perceive smells, one only has to look at the huge range of perfumes available at any one time, to know this.

On my evening walks, I am surprised at the number of fragrances; the spider lilies when mass flowering are just stunning, as are the yesterday, today and tomorrow and the coffee bushes. The Yllang Yllang gives a wonderfully tangy smell to the evening and morning air, as does the pamplemousse (grapefruit) when in flower. This is the same for most citrus and their perfume has the subtle tang you would expect. The native gardenia trees are in full flower and the effect is stunning. Sometimes you are surprised by some of the subtlest of smells, I was walking on an island in Santo that I was landscaping when I smelt the gentlest of smells, it really was a treat, I could not see anything around me in flower, but was told by the staff, to look up and that it was the Namabe tree (Tahitian Chestnut) that was mass flowering, while each tiny flower was small and insignificant, the overall effect was amazing.

There is nothing simpler than picking a few blooms of the delightful baby rose, Cecile Brunner. This is one rose that deserves it’s place in the tropical garden, it blooms nearly all year and when not in bloom the new leaves give a beautiful flush of red, give it something to scramble over and a yearly heavy prune and this is a delightful addition to the garden.

I have even discovered in my latest passion, orchids, that there are many members of this family that are not only stunning to look at but that some of them have the most heavenly perfume. I had a beautiful catleya flowering on my veranda and it was easy on the eyes as well as divine to the nose. The catleyas are not the only ones, I Googled fragrant orchids and the list is too long to repeat, many more than I had ever heard about.

Which leads me into how do you choose, as I keep saying, unfortunately very few of us can have everything we want. As usual it is a good start to have a look to see what is growing in your area and then try asking your friends and there are now some really great gardening sites and groups on the internet, all waiting patiently to be helpful and informative and all for free. I have just got involved in some of these sites and due to my lack of internet at home, the time I have to explore is limited, but it never ceases to amaze me the people that have the knowledge and information that are just waiting to help, so use it.

As I warned for anything that is listed as having strong smell, do a little bit more digging, as it may not be for you. In saying that there is some plant families that are renowned for their bad smell but still have groups of people that avidly collect them, one of the is the amorphophallus family, some of them smell like dead animals, yuk!

Thinking about smell just makes sense, if you only have room for one more plant and you have a choice of two, both of which are as beautiful as the other and both requiring the same amount of attention, would you not choose the one that smells the best?

On that note I hope that you all had a great holiday season and that your New Year’s resolution is to take time to ‘smell the roses’ and enjoy life just a little more.