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Leonard Moorehead the Urban Gardener: “Scent, First and Last”

Sunday, December 10, 2017


Crisp cool mornings

Crisp cool mornings tighten their grip. Cold polar vortexes swirl across the land. Scarves, gloves and thick coats are the rule. We stamp our feet at bus stops. The sun crawls upwards from the far south east lingers a few hours and sinks below the horizon. Gardeners of every stripe huddle inward. Home is more important. We hoard food, turn up thermostats, comfort is our goal, celebration the theme. The days are shorter, nights longer; surely the trend must reach the winter nadir, the solstice.

 preserve and protect

Gardeners preserve and protect. Thick mulches cover growing grounds. Like thick woolen blankets, layers of leaves and hay, sometimes seaweeds and shredded paper, growing grounds are testimony, our compassion and care. Gardeners find happiness in those inner spaces, the containers of the heart. Seeds endure, each hopes’ packet, the crèche of renewal, safe passage into the future. How about a gentle reminder? Do you crave precious moments when deep breath is enriched with vitality, memorable, fragrant? There is an ancient way to reach beyond frost and darkness. Make room in the garden for scented plants. Harvest and dry to preserve.

The nose is close to the heart

The nose is close to the heart. Scent creates memories as strong as the bond between mother and child. Some fragrances are direct others more subtle, virtually all have roots in the garden. Our primary senses define perception. Let’s take a look at the invisible made manifest. The nose is our guide, the heart cradles memory, fragrance the constant link between past, present and future. There are no dictates here. Embrace the myriads, turn to the lovely, and tolerate the huddled skunk. Urban gardeners open your hearts, breath deep, renew.

Fragrance has firm biological basis

Fragrance has firm biological basis, every being is alert to this invisible signal. Cultivate plants for multiple purposes, many plants contain fragrant oils within leaves and most notably, blooms. Those Rosa Ragusa that enrich June dry beautifully and retain their fragrance for month after month. There are many others to contribute to memory, delight and health.  Let’s take a look at plants rookies and old hands will recognize alike.

fragrant super stars

Scented geraniums are fragrant super stars. Commonly available, give them plenty of sunshine. Plant the rose scented varieties around roses: the leaves and flowers of the herbal varieties are not distinguished, however their variations in scent are impressive. Some roses are cultivated for their color or form. Add the scented geraniums around the roses, they share the same water, soil and sunlight needs, and have the best of both worlds.

appeal to thrifty gardeners

Scented geraniums appeal to thrifty gardeners. They are not winter hardy. Scented geraniums however will winter over with modest care in the basement, simply water a few times. Bring out to the cold frame or open ground close to the last frost date. They’ll flush out new growth and thrive for you again.


You may propagate scented geraniums by cuttings. Firm up friendships with other gardeners to trade varieties and teach youngsters or rookies how to make cuttings and create new plants. Use a sharp knife to snip a stem about pencil size. Trim off all but one or two leaves. Dip in water, roll in rooting hormone, pot in small pots, bury up to the pot’s rim in the cold frame and keep moist. New growth will reward your patience.

musky licorice scent

Anise hyssop has musky licorice scent that is alluring and pungent. This garden staple is modest in appearance. What it lacks in external attraction is, like many people, amply trumped by its internal virtues. Fragrant throughout, the leaves are abundant and the dense pale pink or blue flowers resemble small wetlands cattails. Don’t deadhead the flowers, they have a long blooming season and form hundreds of viable seeds. Anise hyssop will freely volunteer and often appears on the edges of planting beds. Thick mulches discourage volunteers of any type. Gardeners who practice thick mulching, generally recommended, find most volunteers thriving along edges and cultivated soils. Opportunity is all they need.

The mint family is a classic. Enjoy the many varieties, such as Melissa Officinalis, lemon balm. It’s subtle lemon fragrance endures. Like other herbs, lemon balm has medicinal purposes. I argue that fragrance is a form of healing, detected by the nose and quick to establish memory and effect. Cut back lemon balm in June and August, tie twine tightly around the stems and hang to dry. Their habit of forming modest clusters of miniature leaves that expand into a host of greenery is charming.

Don’t ignore peppermint, spearmint, and nepheta (sometimes called cat mint). They are all fragrant and notoriously abundant. Harvest away!

Deadheading is a common garden practice to encourage more bloom, especially among annual plants. Save your flower heads! Snip marygolds, roses, zinnias, heliotrope, lilacs, lily of the valley, and favorite blooms. All retain essential merits, colors, fragrance and add subtle variations in texture.

Dry for preservation

Dry for preservation. Drying herbs and flowers is a skill easy to learn with few absolute requirements. Cut stems close to the ground. Trim off leaves close to the stems, mostly to make tying bunches tightly at the base together. Jute twine works great, is affordable and bio-degradable. Hang the bunches from high rafters, far above anyone’s passage or any contact with a surface. Normal air circulation and protection from any sort of precipitation will do the trick.

Mold or mildew

Mold or mildew on your harvest? Throw the harvest into the compost heap or tuck under the mulch and start again. Don’t cut flowers or herb when wet. Late on dry sunny afternoons is perfect. Harvest as much as you can easily bundle at one time from cutting to hanging. Devote a quiet area for the harvest to dry and remain dry until it’s that wonderful time to convert the harvest into the final yield. Brown paper bags are great for hanging flowers above the daily fray. Do make sure the bags are clean, those with handles are an extra bonus.

Strip leaves, blooms

Strip leaves, blooms, and petals away from the tough main stems. A large basket lined with paper is a good container for the leaves and fragrant parts. This is great fun. Each plant offers a distinctive scent, wormwood is medicinal and acerbic, roses enchant, lavender evocative, and all contribute to a sense of well-being. Once you have a completed the stripping away, toss and mix the various elements in the containing basket and store off the floor and under shelter.

Defeat darkness

Defeat darkness. Let your nose lead the way. Close to the heart and aligned with memory, fragrant herbs and flowers are the nostrum for any ailment. Cultivate the joy of life. Urban gardeners grow for many reasons. Light the world anew with dried scented plants. Prolong ancient customs. Fill up cloth bags with the mixtures and give to family and friends. Tuck the bags in closets, among clothes and drawers. Crush once in a while for outbursts of delight. Give to youngsters. Scent pins memory into place. Long afterwards, far into the future, gardeners will sniff a bloom and instantly, people, places, feelings, stand up and are recognized for true bench marks in life. Urban gardeners, cultivate your precious spaces with fragrance in mind. It’s not extra, its necessary. 

Leonard Moorehead is a life- long gardener. He practices organic-bio/dynamic gardening techniques in a side lot surrounded by city neighborhoods in Providence, RI. His adventures in composting, wood chips, manure, seaweed, hay and enormous amounts of leaves are minor distractions to the joy of cultivating the soil with flowers, herbs, vegetables, berries, and dwarf fruit tree. 


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