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Plants that smell of other things

  • Plants that smell of other things
  • Plants that smell of other things
  • Plants that smell of other things

Reading Rob's comment about Melianthus major smelling of peanut butter has got me thinking about plants with curious and wonderful smells. Why isn't more made of them?

In the wine sector, could anyone forget how Jilly Goolden of the BBC 'Food & Drink' programme waxed lyrically and passionately about wines with a nose or taste compared to liquorice, or pear drops ... even rubber. Did they really? The descriptions were often, in my view, wildly over the top.

In the whisky world, the Scotch Malt Whisky Society ( has built its business over the same period with such ridiculous descriptions of the malts they sell that I have often imagined how they go about it. The esteemed selection committee assembles in the Society tasting room in their Vault in Leith. One after another they try the new bottlings, and with each wee drammy they pen the description - an act of collecting together whatever comes into their collective heads. As the afternoon wears on and more drammies are consumed, the output becomes more and more far-fetched and flamboyant. How else could you account for descriptions like the following:

"The aromatic nose displayed geranium, bog myrtle, aromatherapy oil, soy sauce, lavender and clove – but also bacon, lobster bisque, smoked chicken, seaweed, honey, doctors’ surgeries and flower shops. The neat palate was huge, mouth-filling and long-lasting, with a heavenly flavour combination of scorched heather sprigs dipped in honey, caramelized onions, charcoal, chutney and smoked fish. The reduced nose was hijacked by caraway seeds – gripe water, Kummel, salami with caraway, rye bread and stir-fried Chinese greens with soy sauce. The palate became sweeter – sugar-coated pistachios and sweet barbecued ribs with echoes of salted sea biscuits, lavender and tar."

Yes really, all in a single malt! Gardeners, I suspect, are more down to earth. But take the scent out of gardens or cut flowers and what would you have? Fragrance is so intrinsic to gardening that it is easy to overlook smells as basic yet wonderful as freshly cut grass or newly turned earth.

So this is a call to share the genuine scents and smells from the garden that enchant or fascinate you. Come on, we have far more to rave about than the wine and spirits industry!

Here are two from me to kick off: the heavenly scent of the stately Nicotiana sylvestris on a summer's evening and Iris foetedissima which, when you tear a leaf, never fails to intrigue with a smell of roast beef for Sunday dinner.

Comments (11)

  1. Grower

    Angie's Garden

    Great topic! From the top of my head - Primula florindae has a wonderful Cinnamon scent. Whenever I'm working close by I get terribly hungry!

  2. Grower

    Kathy Peck

    Skimmia's my favourite always makes me realise springs here :-),I have it planted outside the front door and every time I go outside at the moment it brings a smile to my face, that scent...........
    Iris Jane Philips is another now that reminds me of something from childhood just can't put my finger on what??

  3. Grower

    Ian Gibson

    My nemesia has the most fantastic smell of Vanilla. On a hot summers day you can smell it all over the garden

  4. Grower

    Jeremy Wright

    The Katsura tree, Cercidyphyllum, also fascinates me. In autumn its leaves turn amazing shades of orange, pink, yellow and red before falling. At which point they give off a distinct aroma of burnt sugar or candy floss. I've been wanting to get one for ages!

    • Plants that smell of other things
  5. Grower

    Helene U Taylor

    The first time I smelled a Cosmos atrosanguineus I couldn’t believe it was true, a flower that smelled of chocolate! I promptly bought it and brought it home. Sadly it didn’t like my garden and didn’t come back the next spring. That was 10 years ago. I wasn’t going to let that stop me, I bought another one a few years later and placed it in a slightly better position. It flowered beautifully that summer – and was never seen again.

    I must admit I would love to have another go, but I have heard that there now is another variety available, Cosmos atrosanguineus 'ChocaMocha' which might be even more lovely. It is more chocolatey than Cosmos atrosanguineus with a stronger chocolate fragrance and more compact too, so may not need staking. I have had it on my wish list for 2014, but can’t seem to find a nursery who has it in stock right now - but I haven’t give up just yet. Apart from my around 100 Lilium regale, I can’t think of a more amazing scent in my flower beds than chocolate!

    • Plants that smell of other things
  6. Grower

    Good Earth Gardens

    Hypericum 'Hidcote' smells of spicy oranges when you trim it. Also Cotinus coggygria or smoke bush has an orangey scent that I love. Apparently, Thuja plicata or Western Red Cedar, smells like peardrops or crushed apples! Has anyone experienced that? There are also loads of really exciting scented pelargoniums that smell of pepper, lemon, rose, cloves which I would love to have some cuttings of. Hint.

  7. Grower

    Helene U Taylor

    I have a 9m tall Thuja plicata at the bottom of my garden, inherited with the house, heavily pruned so plants can grow under it. Both peeled bark and fallen branches smell lovely, but I have never thought of pear drops or crushed apples when smelling it – perhaps my tree doesn’t know it is supposed to smell like that :-)

    • Plants that smell of other things
  8. Grower

    Jeremy Wright

    Now you shouldn't let that hold you back Helene. What would Jilly Goolden or the Whisky Society say? You should close your eyes and let your senses free to smell the wafts of apple crumble, old books, tuck shop jars and stored apples in the potting shed ;-)

  9. Grower

    Helene U Taylor

    Ehhh…I have always thought all that was a whole lot of pompous rubbish :-)
    I am perfectly happy with the smells I get from my cedar, it is lovely, especially now in the spring.

  10. Grower

    Jeremy Wright

    Ha - I do agree and was only joking! As I suggested in the post, gardeners are more down to earth ... and we get quite enough sensory pleasure from plants not to need 'fantasy' descriptions.

  11. Grower

    Jim Edwards

    Best try helichrysum then, no fantasies there

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