Fragrance in the Garden

Fragrance is one of those subtle attractions in the garden that can often be overwhelmed by our more obvious attraction to color. Fragrance can be elusive, but our internal senses are extremely aware.  For example, mountainous regions are abundant with an endless variety of woody resinous scents emanating from pine, juniper, cedar and fir.  At certain times of the year, pungent aromas waft from open fields of sage, sagebrush and currant.

My Sweet Rose, by John William Waterhouse

Generally we are unaware of these fragrances permeating the very air we breathe–that is, until we receive just the light sprinkling of summer rain. Plants with aromatic foliage have tiny sacs of scent oils in their leaves.  The fragrance is released by sun and warm temperatures, by the lightest pressure from your fingers, or the gentle drops of rain.

Over 80 compounds have been identified in the scent of a single rose, the most coveted of all plants for its fragrance.  The more petals a rose has, and the heavier the petals, the more fragrance it contains.  You’ll find that the heirloom and antique roses from Europe have the multitude of heavy petals that offer increased fragrance.  And these types of roses require less care in your garden than almost any other perennial.

Heirloom Roses for Fragrance

One of my absolute favorites, Gallica roses, are the oldest of all the roses.  They were bred by the Greeks and Romans for their heavy fragrance and continuous bloom. Used for medicinal purposes in medieval times, you’ll recognize them in the paintings of the Dutch masters of the 1700s.  Also strongly fragrant and used in perfumes and cosmetics, Damask roses were grown in Biblical times.  Centifolia or cabbage roses were  often used in sachets and potpourri in Victorian England.

Organic Soil Produces the Most Fragrance

Plants manufacture their fragrance in glandular cells called osmophores.  The osmophores must be exposed to the air and to receiving certain nutrients from the roots.  Soil fertility is critical to increased fragrance production since it also increases the health of the plant.  If you’ve already used my soil recipe to start your organic garden, you’re fragrant garden is off to a good start.  Once we get past this intense hot spell, add another 1/2 c. alfalfa pellets and a sprinkle of superphosphate (0-25-0) to each rose and water deeply with 2 T. Epsom Salt.  In fact, water your entire garden, vegetables included, with 2 T. Epsom Salt per gallon of water.

Warm Nights Increase Fragrance

After the early intense daytime heat of the summer, enjoy the velvet soft summer nights.  Water the soil deeply at dusk (not the foliage) to intensify the fragrance of many plants –alyssum, summer phlox, lavender and of course, roses.

In sync with nature,
Tova Roseman
Earth Diva


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