Evening essence

28 July 2017

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THE Victorian walled garden in which I work has recently hosted some outdoor evening theatre. I was delighted to see a different group of people using the garden, and keen to hear some feedback on the venue. It seems that the most lasting impression was left by the heady scent of the flora on the warm summer evenings.

I stayed behind after work one day to investigate the sources fur­ther, and now offer some point­ers for enjoying the pleasure of perfume in your own outdoor spaces.

I think that the four-metre wall that surrounds the garden has a lot to do with the olfactory impact on the theatre audience and players. Hence, my first piece of advice is to create an enclosed area. A balcony or courtyard is already thus, but a larger garden will need it to be created with a trellis, a pergola, or a ready-made arbour. A lower area cut into the surrounding landscape can also help to trap scent.

I noted that a few climbers were adding to the heady mix, par­ticularly common jasmine, Jasminum officinale, and a fine honeysuckle, Lonicera periclymenum “Graham Thomas”. So clothe the “walls” with these, or with wall shrubs such as the deciduous Cestrum parqui, which exudes a delicious nocturnal fragrance.

Perhaps the strongest olfactory call in the walled garden was exuded by an otherwise ordinary summer bedding-plant. Admittedly, the dis­play of Nemesia “Wisley Vanilla” was en masse, but a few in a pot would surely signal their presence, too. And, being the palest of pinks, it glows at dusk.

In our scheme at Croxteth, they surround a tall central-feature plant: a brugmansia, or angel’s trumpet. Given water and feed, this is a vig­orous grower that can be kept in a container, sunk in the ground for summer, and overwintered indoors. It bears huge pendent pale-peach funnels that pour out a heady fra­grance all evening.

Also for a container display, I would recommend a ginger lily. Hedy­chium densiflorum “Stephen” was bearing its first spike of pale-yellow blooms with orange stamens when t he troupe called, and the spicy hyacinth scent must surely have contributed to the atmosphere.

I can recommend “Cupani” sweet pea for its exquisite perfume: it is a very old variety sent to the UK in 1699 by a Sicilian monk, Brother Francis Cupani.

We have a good collection of English roses. David Austin has bred these since the 1960s with fragrance as well as repeat flowering and disease resistance as priorities. They come in soft colours and the plant form has to be pleasing, too. Hybrid Teas by contrast can be stiff and upright. English roses with par­ticularly exquisite fragrance are the rich-pink “Gertrude Jekyll”, the climbing pale-pink “St Swithun” (sweet myrrh), and the pale-peachy beauty “Desdemona” (Old Rose, almond blossom, cucumber, and lemon zest).

You may not have the space for outdoor theatre in your garden, but it is worth planting for perfume to enjoy another dimension as Na­­ture’s curtain falls.

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