The more you think about gardens the more interesting they become. The more you know about gardens, the more you notice. The more you notice, the more you know. And if you are really into noticing and knowing you realize that other people don't notice the things you do. What people see in a garden can be very unique.
The wonderful thing about gardens as art, something that makes them different from all other art forms, is that they are living, immersive experiences. Wandering in a garden, you become the garden. Really.
A few years ago scientists studying the fragrance of jasmine discovered that just a whiff of it made agitated rats settle calmly and happily in a corner of their cage. (Now, if you ever feel like an agitated rat, you'll know just what to do.)
The scientists tested hundreds of fragrances and found the scent of jasmine acted five times as strongly as sedatives, sleeping pills and relaxants minus the risk of addiction and without any side effects like depression, dizziness, muscle weakness and impaired coordination.
Fragrance in a garden is a big deal for our mental health and we may not even know it while those benefits are being imparted.
Here in California, when most people think of fragrant native plants they think of sages. I recently led a native plant gardening class of 40 people, give or take. Someone had asked me a few weeks before if there were any natives that smelled sweet like jasmine or gardenia.
So that day I brought in an assortment of native plants with different fragrances. Not just sweet-smelling varieties, but minty, musky, and pungent (in a good way), too. To my delight, the first people who entered the room exclaimed at the how good the room smelled...before they even noticed the plants.
Here are a few of the plants I included in my impromptu pot-pourri...
San Miguel Savory - Satureja chandleri...Minty. My daughter says it smells like toothpaste. If there is toothpaste that tastes as good as this smells I want some. The smell is so wonderful it's almost as attractive to me as catnip is to my cats. It loves a shady place.
California Bay Laurel - Umbellularia californica. Yes it can be used for cooking, but it's more intense than the traditional bay leaves used for cooking, so use at half strength. I've never met anyone who doesn't think it smells yummy. How cool that its a low-water, native plant, too. No fancy maintenance regimes for this one.
Lilac verbena - Verbena lilacina...Smells like a wedding bouquet bursting with sweetness. A lovely, soft sweet scent. Looks so pretty with silver shrubs and grasses.
Sage - Salvia...any of our native sages smell intoxicating. Some are stronger smelling than others. This one is a creeping, ground-hugging sage with a beautiful, heady, musky scent.