Isabel Bannerman’s Scent Magic is an exquisitely observant and personal diary of the way scents – especially garden scents – can affect your mood. Scents have the power to transport you in a delightful way – sniffing lemon tree in a glasshouse might trigger ‘a minuscule holiday in the mind’ and they can whisk you back in time: ‘ today the garden smelled warmly felted in a halloween way …. so nostalgically exciting with all the childish happiness of half term’.
Bannerman’s approach is heady and infectious and although some scents are utterly pleasurable – Rosa ‘Rosarie de l’Haÿ’ smells of cucumber, tea and laundered tablecloths laid at a table on the lawn’ and she describes roses which ‘give one a giddy feeling like falling in a dream’, Bannerman is brilliant on the power of more complex smells, the way a picked nasturtium ‘carries with it the back of old cupboards and forgotten drawers’ or the way the smell of a white cashmere jumper in a shop ‘made me remember that I used to love the smell of shops and hotels, of uptown New York and, yes, of airports. I still do sometimes’.
Isabel and her husband, Julian Bannerman are perhaps the most charismatic garden designers of their generation. They have designed theatrical and deeply romantic gardens at Highgrove, Houghton Hall and Woolbeding. and have created equally atmospheric gardens of their own, most recently at Trematon Castle in Cornwall where much of this intoxicating observation takes place.
As well as an inspiring invitation to consider every kind of scent more deeply, the book is practical and constantly generous in its recommendations for plants which work hard in the garden, looking as good as they smell.
So why not try introducing some new scent into your own garden? Here are a handful of Isabel Bannerman’s recommendations for scented plants:
Lilium regale: The ever-glamorous July-flowering bulb
‘Regale lilies still astonish. They are the perfect way to get excited about gardening. Buy the plump artichokey bulbs in December …and watch them flourish into tannoy trumpets, white and yellow as Berwick swans, bellowing out perfume.’
Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Pallida’
The spreading deciduous shrub, witch hazel, lights up the New Year garden with fragrant crinkled flowers that look as if they are made from shredded silk.
‘I love that smell, a clean sanitorium smell of pure alcohol and Elastoplast. Mr B. (Julian Bannerman) says the rusty red ones smell good, of cigar boxes and cinnamon …Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Pallida’ is one with the most scented and most luminous pale sulphur flowers, shining out on the dullest day’.
Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’
A small, rounded evergreen shrub with clusters of fragrant pink flowers in early spring. In the words of Isabel, it is ‘ the star of the spring garden…the scent is almost edible, candied but packing a sharp, sherbet punch, warmed by a whisper of clove.’
Philadelphus ‘Manteau d’Hermine’
A compact and versatile variety of the deliciously fragrant mock orange: ‘useful in beds and borders, spangled with starry white pineapple fruity fumes in June’
Camellia sasanqua ‘Narumigata’
An autumn flowering camellia with single pink-tinged white flowers against shiny dark green leaves. ‘Narumigata’ is ‘ one of the best … a smell as fine as a petal, light as orange flower water, barely there, an almost imagined jasmine. At any other time of year this camellia would not really rate as scented flower, but in November it is a delight to eye and nose’.
Where to buy
Scent Magic, Notes from a Gardener by Isabel Bannerman is published by Pimpernel Press Ltd on 3rd October 2019