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Landscaping for the senses : scents of nature

For the Carré des Jardiniers contest, part of the finalists' score will be awarded by professionals specialized in one of the five senses. What do the senses do for landscapes? How can you use them in your green space designs? Each month until the next Paysalia exhibition the jurors will explain their points of view. This month, perfumed by the warm sand and lavender scents of holidays we talk to Jean-Claude Ellena, former “nose” for Hermès perfumes and, since 2019, director of olfactive creation for Le Couvent des Minimes.

© Photo credits: Mediteraneo /

Explore the other senses through a sensory garden: hearing, sight, touch and taste

“Most people look at a landscape. Me, I smell it.”

Perfumer creators have a highly developed sense of smell. For Jean-Claude Ellena the scents of nature are the building blocks of a perfume. “It all starts with simple gestures like walking, bending over a flower, scraping a piece of bark, crushing an essence to release its scent… When a natural scent makes me curious, I memorize and record it. My nose is always looking out for scents I can use to create a perfume in the future!”

What about integrating scents into the gardens presented for the Carré des Jardiniers contest? “Smells are important - and even sniffing the ground! Smelling is a crucial, but unconscious sense. For example, the odor of another human being is important although we are not always aware of it. We are attracted to people whose smell is close to our own. Sometimes it is so different we are intrigued.”

“So the sense of smell plays a fundamental role and you have to understand the symbolism of odors. For example, the scent of chrysanthemums evokes cemeteries for the French but are perceived as noble flowers by the Japanese. The same is true for carnations, used in France for funeral wreaths - but conveying love in Poland! Depending on their culture, people react differently to scents. In a green space, the choice of natural scents has a real impact which should be considered before planting!”


Some surprising facts about the sense of smell…

Often ignored, smell is a highly developed sense. In fact, it is the only human sense which reacts instinctively (to an odor) before analyzing, unlike sight or hearing which analyze before reacting! Here are some astonishing facts about the sense of smell to highlight its importance in landscaping.

  • The sense of smell is the human sense most closely related to our memory and the emotional zones of our brain. A single scent can instantaneously take us back decades!
  • As the perception of an odor is related to our personal experiences, every individual is affected by a scent in a different way. However, some are the same for everyone. Peppermint, for example, can help with difficult tasks.
  • Until 2014, it was believed that human beings could only distinguish 10,000 different odors. A new study has revealed that in fact we can sense a trillion, i.e. 1,000 billion.
  • Last but not least, remember that some plants attract pollinating insects with the odor they diffuse. This natural olfactive signal is a good way to help them by including a pollinating space in landscape designs through differentiated green space management!

Read also on Paysalia: Discover 24 astonishing landscaping facts with our advent calendar!


Why work on the five senses in landscaping?

Public and private gardens automatically stimulate all five senses. A successful invitation to daydreaming and serenity depends on harmoniously combining them through the plants and materials used, such as wood, stone, etc. A challenge for the finalists of the Carré des Jardiniers 2019 for which the landscaping theme is The Village Square!

Discover the poetry of senses in landscaping in the words of former Master Gardeners.

The scents present in nature are currently often ignored as key elements in landscaping. Carré des Jardiniers contestants will have to consider this aspect carefully to add a new dimension to their gardens… and win the Carré des Jardiniers trophy! Their creations will surely give some inspiration for landscape designers.

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