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Sense smell woman
When we consider sensory elements for our gardens, we often focus on sight and sounds. However, a key sensory element for any garden is smell. With a wide choice of scented flowers and plants to choose from, this article looks at key considerations for engaging our sense of smell in the garden.

As well as adding interest to your garden, you may want to include more scented flowers and plants in your garden to help and support you or others spending time in it.

Whilst it might always be a given that you add plants into your garden that you like, this is also the case with smells. Just as plants can be added to your garden to expand the smells and sensory elements, having a plant you don’t like the smell of will upset the balance and make it difficult to enjoy the whole space.

When we look at including plants in our garden for their smells and sensory qualities, we need to consider their placement in more detail to ensure they don’t compete. Having a broad and extensive range of plants in your garden for their smells may mean it then becomes too heady and doesn’t provide you with the right feel. Instead it's important to consider where you place the plants that smell and how the wind might move the scents around the space and whether the scents work in proximity.

We also need to consider what we hope to gain from the garden and the inclusion of plants for their smells. For example, we tend to want a garden to provide calmness or an opportunity to relax but sometimes it might be that stimulation is important. To support people to engage directly in the space, some of the stronger smelling plants may stimulate rather than offering a sense of calmness.

This doesn’t need to be a whole garden approach either. You can create smaller elements in your garden for different sensory engagements. You could have one area that creates calm and peace and another area that stimulates and allows engagement and focus. This can be an evolving process so that you don’t need to decide everything now and stick to it. The most wonderful thing about a garden is its ever-changing nature.

You may also want to consider plants that have a more detailed smell, from floral to sweet or from musky to earthy. For some, the overly sweet and floral smell of some plants and flowers may be too much and instead they’ll prefer the slightly muted earthy smells of shrubs.

Engaging our sense of smell buddleja
Summer flowering buddleja

Whilst you may want to consider smells in your garden for spring and summer only as these are the times of year you are in the garden the most, it is possible to plan a garden that engages the senses throughout the year. For example, lavender is scented all year round but is strongest in smell when it is in full bloom. We have included a few seasonal options for you at the end of this article to give you some ideas. If you are considering adding winter flowering shrubs, you may want to place them close to a door or window so you can enjoy their scent from indoors.

You can welcome smells into your garden or home even if you only have a small space. Shrubs and plants can often grow very happily in pots or in a small bed in the garden or you can bring plants inside if that is a better option for you.

Herbs are a great way to welcome smells into your life and smaller spaces. From thyme and sage to basil and mint, you can find all the fragrances you like in small manageable pots for inside or to surround your back door.

However you decide to bring smells into your garden, remember that less is more and conflicting smells may mean you won't enjoy any of them. Try and group together smells that work to support each other and use a sheltered area where the scents can be contained. If you are including scents in a larger border, place the smaller scented plants at the front so you can enjoy their smells as you pass.

Engaging our sense of smell winter jasmine
Winter jasmine

Smells are an intensely personal experience and can trigger a range of memories and feelings. We often use smells to support the work we do in social and therapeutic horticulture.

Enjoy exploring the options you have and trust what you like as there is no better experience than catching the scent of a favourite plant on the breeze and connecting to the happiness it brings.

Here are a few of our own recommendations for scented plants and flowers throughout the year:

Winter Flowering

Spring Flowering

Summer Flowering

Autumn Flowering

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