Design an Aromatherapy Garden



  • Imagine yourself sitting on this bench, eyes closed, breathing in the fragrance of some of the world’s most aromatic plants. This garden plan is keyed to the plant list at left.
    Illustrations by Susan Strawn Bailey
  • This cottage aromatherapy garden in Atlanta has many fragrant plants forthe visitor to step on and brush against.
    Photography by Holly Shimizu
  • A potted lemon verbena is kept close at hand on the patio.

Aromatherapy begins with plants. Long before most of us gardeners had ever heard the term “aromatherapy”, we were practicing it in practical ways. We placed lemon verbena along pathways so we could brush against it for a quick lift from its fragrance. We planted creeping thyme in pathway cracks so we could ­appreciate its soothing, warm smell as we walked on it. And we looked forward to sitting on a chamomile lawn and experiencing its relaxing scent, with the prospect of later sipping a fragrant tea made from its flowers.

My nose has always played a major role in gardening decisions. I plant herbs and flowers with the fragrances I most enjoy under windows that are often open. The scent of blue sage (Salvia clevelandii), one of my favorites, travels through the house, and I especially appreciate it in autumn. I like to place aromatic herbs in containers near the house in areas where guests always notice them.

Outside the garden, aromatherapy is the use of essential oils, either by inhaling them or applying them to skin, for therapeutic or aesthetic purposes. But these dear little bottles of fragrant oils, which have been shown in scientific studies to have physiological and psychological benefits, originate in plants. There’s no reason you can’t reap the same aromatherapeutic benefits while working or relaxing in your garden.

The power of smell

For many of us, our strongest childhood memories are associated with smell. I remember the soothing fragrance of rugosa roses growing along the New England coast, as well as its calming effect on me. When the scent of gardenias blows into the house on the warm summer air, romance stirs my soul. Intense memories from my past are imprinted on my brain alongside fragrance.



Smell is our most primitive sense. Memories recalled by smells often feel more vivid and emotional than those associated with sights, sounds and tastes. Unlike the other sense organs, the nose sends information directly to the limbic system, a primitive part of the brain concerned with memory and emotion.

We all respond differently to smells, but some responses seem to be universal. Even in medieval times, it was believed that the scent of basil would stimulate the heart and take away melancholy and that smelling wild thyme could lift the spirits and vital energies.



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