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Master Gardener: Scents in my flower garden

Vicky Barney
For Steamboat Pilot & Today

Until recently, I paid little attention to scents in my garden. I am a fan of few aromas, whether in my home or my yard. That all changed the afternoon I brushed past an inconspicuous lavender plant hidden in my flowerbed. What a wonderful fragrance.

Studies have shown the scent of lavender has calming effects, reduces anxiety and brings on sleep, which explains why the fragrance is used in so many products. The plant grows well in Routt County and is a deer deterrent, which were my reasons for adding it to my garden.

Routt County gardeners can grow many sweet-smelling plants. In her article, “Plant something scent-sational,” published in the Aug. 4, 2008, Steamboat Pilot & Today, Deb Babcock reminds us that “fragrance is a powerful stimulant of memories, emotions and even behavior,” and lists plants that we can grow locally.



Deb’s article set me on a mission to seek fragrant plants in my garden. First, I searched for fragrance in blooming flowers. The lilac blossoms with their too-sweet smell are long gone, as are the — unfortunately — scentless rose blossoms. As for the flowers in bloom, I found no scent in the purple coneflower (Echinacea) and black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia) but discovered a slight delicate scent in the tall phlox (Phlox) and sweet William (Dianthus). Fragrant lavender (Lavandula) was the clear winner among the plants in bloom.

Lavender

Next, I investigated scents in leaves. Bee balm (Monarda) and catmint (Nepeta) have minty smelling leaves; both are members of the Lamiaceae family (the mint family). Others in this family include hyssop (Agastache), rosemary, thyme, and to my surprise, lavender. Crushing the leaves released a pleasant minty aroma.

Participate in The Longevity Project

The Longevity Project is an annual campaign to help educate readers about what it takes to live a long, fulfilling life in our valley. This year Kevin shares his story of hope and celebration of life with his presentation Cracked, Not Broken as we explore the critical and relevant topic of mental health.



While conducting this research, I found the garden scents diminishing. Merely brushing past the lavender plant no longer produces that wonderful scent. Fragrance, I learned, is affected by sun, soil, pH and water (humidity). Also, scents do not travel well here on summer mornings in August. Denser air (cooler and drier) prevents aromatic molecules produced by the plant from moving toward the receptors in the nose where scent is registered.

Searching for pleasant scents in my garden has inspired me to consider fragrance when adding new plants and to pay closer attention to the scented world around me. First, though, I am heading back to the garden to collect some fragrant lavender.

Vicky Barney gardens for wildlife and is a member of the Master Gardener Class of 2011.


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