One of my fondest childhood memories is of spending time on the allotment that belonged to my friend’s dad. It was very much a traditional allotment site with pigeon and chicken coops and Heath Robinson-like structures to keep pests off the precious crops. My friend’s dad had a greenhouse on his plot, which to me was a magical place. It was filled with tomatoes; the cordon types, the stems of which would be carefully tied to twine hanging from the roof so that they grew upwards, and the side shoots were methodically pinched out to encourage plenty of fruit to form. The greenhouse had a fabulous smell to it – a mix of pungent tomato leaves, wood and the earthy smell of moist compost warmed by the sun.
I don’t imagine it’s a scent that a Parisian perfumery would want to capture in a bottle, but the potent smell of a greenhouse is one I love, and it’s something I’m going to try to capture in my potting shed this summer. I’ll have a couple of compact tomato plants in pots on the staging for the classic greenhouse scent, but I’m also looking at ways of adding other aromas to the space.
One of my most favourite greenhouses I’ve visited is the one at Parham House in Sussex. It was built in 1923 and originally there was a set of four structures but only one remains. I love it because it’s devoted to growing ornamental plants rather than edibles, and it’s packed from floor to ceiling with all manner of colourful and exotic plants such as fuchsias, abutilons, brugmansia and plumbago. The greenhouse at Parham is large and it lets in more light than my potting shed, but it would be nice to create an essence of this amazing space.
With this idea in mind, I’m growing a couple of scented leaf pelargoniums – Pelargonium tomentosum which has fabulously tactile downy leaves that smell like peppermint when they’re stroked, Pelargonium ‘Chocolate Peppermint’ which has attractive green foliage with maroon markings and a minty fragrance, and ‘Attar of Roses’ whose leaves smell strongly of rose.
On the staging I’m also going to make space for a heliotrope plant. If you’ve never grown one before I would highly recommend it, as the clusters of rich purple flowers have a sweet marzipan-like scent.
I’m also growing a couple of different types of basil – the classic Genovese basil that’s the prefect one for making pesto and ‘Mrs Burns’ Lemon’, which has lemon-scented leaves that are a great accompaniment with fish recipes. Both of these will hopefully add to the overall scent of the shed.
And finally, outside the shed, by the doorway, I’m planting containers filled with Nemesia ‘Wisley Vanilla’ which has a lovely sweet fragrance and night-scented stock, an all-time favourite plant of mine. It isn’t the most attractive of plants during the day when its flowers are closed, but as the sun fades and twilight approaches the flowers open, releasing an intoxicating perfume that Chanel or Dior would approve of.
Om Louise Curley
Louise is a horticulturalist, garden writer and author of the award-winning book The Cut Flower Patch. She’s passionate about the power of plants to make us feel happy and is an advocate for organic gardening and encouraging wildlife into gardens.Get to know Louise Curley
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