Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Scent your home with flowers - a post for the green fingered.

£48. That’s how much it costs to scent your home with Diptyque’s beautiful Rosa Mundi candle. If it’s the middle of winter, or you live in a flat and have money to burn (literally) I understand the desire to buy this object of loveliness.

However, £48 buys a hell of a lot of real flowers. Not the rubbish ones that don’t smell of anything from the florist, I’m talking about growing your own.

Last May I moved from my sky high urban flat to an old Victorian terraced cottage. It’s tiny and a little bit knackered, but there is a garden. As the proud owner of green fingers I couldn’t wait to plan my much missed outdoor space. I have only a miniscule front garden, South facing and elevated from the lane by rickety stone steps.  Its patio area is just big enough for a few planters and a deck chair from which I can tipple gin in the summer. At the rear of the house is a yard filled by an old outdoor toilet shed. I plan to sow a ‘cut flower’ patch in grow bags upon its roof when the sun rises high enough to battle for daylight dominance with the neighbouring woods.

The garden was a mess, an overgrown patch of shrubs that had never seen a blade and waist high grass on a mission to self-seed dandelion clocks and sadistic thistles. My determined Dad spent several hours ‘strimming’ the grass, pausing every few minutes to rethread the machine as its exhausted cord broke repeatedly. Meanwhile I destroyed my back digging up a plethora of eye pokingly sharp cordyline plants. I have a fear of spikes…

Hardcore strimming event

Whilst it was too late in the season to grow many seeds, I couldn’t resist giving life to some sweet peas. I spent 99p on a packet of ‘Spencer Mixed’ variety which by August grew into a 5 foot high pot of scented glory. For the next couple of months my house was filled with their intoxicating fragrance and I slept soundly lulled by bedside vases of this frilly wonder.

My Mum divided her old fashioned carnation plants and gave me clumps to plant up by the patio. If you’ve never smelt a garden grown carnation you will be astounded by its peppery floral fragrance. Imagine a Caron boutique in the 1950s and that’s about it. They smell exactly like Bellodgia. A single bloom can fill a room with a strident Oeillet olé such is its bold exuberance!

Carnation and Sweat Pea Spencer Mixed spicing up the dining table

The neglected white Rosa Alba that lived here had bolted to a giant straggle. Although a few Dior-esque petals remained it needed lopping almost to the ground to encourage healthy new growth next year. Meanwhile I headed to the garden centre and chose a David Austin ‘Generous Gardener’ climbing rose to satisfy my craving. Chosen for its scent, this pink beauty smells like the finest Rose Damascena absolute with a teeny hint of sugared almond. Sadly I knocked its heavily budded head off in a clumsy car exit but it rapidly grew back.

My Generous Gardener in full bloom

My plans for 2017

It will be a summer of vivid scented annual flowers. My ‘Spencer Mixed’ sweet peas are growing vigorously. In October I transformed a worn out G-Plan side table into a miniature bubble wrapped greenhouse to see if it really is possible to ‘overwinter’ annual seedlings in the cold damp Pennine winter. It is. In May I will plant a second variety ‘Sweet Pea Promise’ – a posh one from Thompson and Morgan that promises to be hugely whiffy.

G-Plan greenhouse

Sweat Pea Promise from the Thompson and Morgan website

Early flowering scent will come from Stocks ‘Appleblossom’. Stocks have a heady narcotic whiff, which with just a few stems is intoxicating. More than a few is a whopping migraine.

                                          Stocks Appleblossom from the Thompson and Morgan website

My perennial white Phlox plants will hopefully reawaken and battle the slugs to bring some elegance once again. Their scent is a marvelous combination of the skanky indole that we devour in our white floral fragrances and a more delicate and fresh green nuance that brings brightness and vivacity and makes the plant smell ‘youthful’.


Some shrubs inherited from the previous owners have proved to be seasonally boring. They will be dug up and replaced by lavender, the foliage of which will make an excellent 'leafy bit' in my indoor arrangements. 

Last year I waged war on slugs. I had millions of the little thugs. With Joseph and his neighbouring cat friends around, the use of toxins was not a possibility. This year I’m conducting an experiment. I am collecting my own hair in order to create hairy rings around the base of tender seedlings. I never brush it so a hair wash yields lots of useful strands! Apparently slugs hate the dry texture of hair and wool and won’t cross it. The witchy side of me loves the idea of having a part of myself lurking sentinel like in the garden. My grandmother would have approved of this frugal and somewhat pagan approach.

Joseph strolls his territory wall

I’ll post an update in early summer and let you know which plants yield the greatest fragrance. I would dearly love to hear from any of my readers who tend a fragrant garden. Your recommendations would be gratefully received in the comments box.

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  1. Great article and your garden will be lovely. We too suffer a plethora of slugs of many colours here in Washington State. 20 years ago, we discovered a handy item called a "Slug Bar" it's a plastic thing that you place on the ground near your plants and fill with beer. Talk about "drowning" your sorrows and slugs. It works like magic! Apparently slugs cannot resist the smell of beer. Who knew? The plastic "bars" are green and just sit there like a saucer, barely noticable. We got ours on Amazon.

    1. Hi Robert,
      Thank you for the tip.
      Did you collect many in the beer tub? I did try it a few times last year but it rains so much in The Pennines that I think they got their tipple watered down a bit! I will give it another go in drier weather.
      Good luck with this years planting.

  2. We got so many that it was too disgusting for me to empty, I left that job to the spouse. We get bucketloads of rain as well, but these "bars" we use have a cunning little roof to protect the tray. Completely ridiculous, but I'm not complaining because success!

  3. "Oeillet olé" - respect!!

    I admire your gardening spirit, especially in such adverse conditions. I had a flurry of green fingeredness right after my mother died, but it has long since worn off, and I can't seem to summon the urge to engage with pots and seeds. It's all I can do to pull up chickweed.

    1. Vanessa, I'm so glad you noticed the carnation pun. I am particularly proud of it!
      I always imagined you'd be a garden potterer. I think it's because your house always looks so lovely in the photos. If you do start to feel an urge again I'm going to be trialling a few different types of sweet pea seeds this year and will have a surplus. I'm happy to post a few your way if you fancy a sniffy container?