Date(s) - 14/06/2019
Kilmington Village Hall
Jeremy Wilson is a life-long professional gardener, working as head gardener in many parts of England before settling in Kingsbridge where he runs a camellia nursery. Fragrant plants are top of his ‘must-have’ lists. His first illustration was of a colourful long border, remarking that to walk through a flower garden is good, but to walk through a scented garden is even better. Scents are more than a sensory response – they evoke memories of people and places. For him, lilies of the valley would always bring back memories of his grandmother. He warned the audience that he would throw questions at them and hope for some answers. ‘What were the earliest recorded scents from plants?’ he asked. People mumbled roses, lavender and other highly fragrant flowers: wrong – it was frankincense and myrrh. Answers to questions on human scent physiology were similarly wide of the mark: nobody suggested five million as the number of scent receptors in the nose. Interestingly, human beings have thousands of genes associated with scent but only three associated with colour, presumably because early man had needed an acute sense of smell for survival.
Before dealing with individual plants, Jeremy explained that he would be concentrating on more unusual varieties, and on his own favourites. Scent is not confined to flowers; leaves and roots can also be aromatic. Although pollination is of primary importance, it is not the only exploitation of scent by flowers: for example, in cases of caterpillar infestation, some plants can produce pheromones which attract predatory wasps; and eucalyptus trees can add a bitter taste to their leaves to dissuade grazing animals from eating them. Illustrations of recommended plants followed, many of them unfamiliar, spanning all seasons and covering all groups. Winter has an abundance of scented shrubs, some evergreen such as Sarcococca humilis and Azara microphylla, and others flowering on bare wood – Hamamelis x intermedia and winter jasmine. Early in the year is the time for daphnes, incomparable for their heady scent. In spring there are numerous viburnums to choose from, x bodnantense, x burkwoodii and carlesii were among Jeremy’s favourites, as were the scented rhododendrons.
Bulbs included a snowdrop, Galanthus ‘S. Arnott’ and Crocus chrysanthus, perennials Hemerocallis citrina and Smilacina racemosa, and scented climbers were illustrated with photographs of Clematis cirrhosa and C. armandii. Many plants have scents reminiscent of others – citrus, pineapple or mint. Three chocolate-smelling plants, totally unrelated, were all pollinated at night, climber Akebia quinata, perennial Cosmos atrosanguineus and the American chocolate daisy Berlandiera lyrata, all presumably attracting the same sort of pollinating insect. Houseplants were not forgotten: familiar gardenias and orchids, but also rarer plants such as Hoya carnosa with beautiful terminal clusters of pink wax-like flowers. Jeremy’s final flourish was the specimen tree Cercidiphyllum japonicum in its full autumn glory, noted for the strong aroma of burnt sugar as it sheds its leaves. Superb specimens of many of the plants mentioned had been brought for the sale table and many members left the hall clutching new additions to their own gardens.