Summer fragrances

31st May 2022

Smell is a uniquely powerful sense, generating strong reactions and evoking distant memories. As the long sunny days prompt more wild flowers to bloom, we explore the natural scents that shout out summer – with help from sustainable flower delivery business Petalon and natural bath & body brand land&water.

First off, we’re heading away from the salty air, surf wax and sun cream scents of the beach, to the coast path and deeper into Cornwall’s verdant undergrowth and hedgerows. Here you’ll catch the fragrant scents being released by plants and wild flowers coming into bloom.

With the first flush of spring now fading, there’s an abundance of flowering plants ready to step into the breach. From the sweet smelling honeysuckle climbing over its hedgerow fellows, to the aromatic leaves and tiny lilac flowers of pennyroyal. Going by mentha pulegium in Latin, pennyroyal’s leaves can be steeped in hot water for a strong, wild mint tea.

If you’re on the hunt for rarer scents than these among the undergrowth, The Lizard is where to head. Home to an ancient and unique geology, many rare species and sweet smells can be found in one of the UK’s most biodiverse regions.

On a summer’s evening walk through fields, you might encounter the orange-scented smell of the fragrant orchid. On heathland or even sandy dunes, you might pick up the gentle fragrance of wild thyme – also identified by its purple-pink flowers between May and August, growing close to the ground. Chives, another fragrance reminiscent of the kitchen, grow wild on The Lizard, with its recognisable small pink flowers.

Image credit: Petalon

Floral fragrance

Surround yourself with the fragrance of summer blooms grown on these shores indoors… At Petalon’s Cornish farm, it’s a particularly busy time of year, says Petalon co-owner James. “We have to be in the field cutting flowers early enough to beat the day’s heat,” he explains. “Then we’re in the studio making up bouquets, by the time most people are thinking about setting off for work.

“In terms of the bouquets themselves, the summer is defined by abundance. Even the dwarf sunflowers we grow still have such large heads, and the delphiniums and larkspur are so tall, we can barely fit them inside the box!”

When it comes to bouquets for the nose, the Petalon team include a heady mix in their deliveries. “Sweet peas will continue through early summer and smell just amazing – particularly in a delivery bouquet, as their sweet scent really fills the box,” he says. “By late summer we’ll be using lots of mint and geranium stems, both of which have a deserving reputation for their incredible smells.”

Image credit: Petalon 

Other stars of the season are lupins, ready to send as the pink and purple varieties appear in hedgerows around the county. Then there are poppies, with a longer flowering life than those defying the odds to bloom along Cornish stone walls.

Alongside the rows of flowers for cutting, the hedgerows around the Petalon farm see the bright yellow gorse shining brighter than ever. “Gorse smells like sweet coconut to us,” adds James.

The season inside

Waking up to seize the day or coming back indoors to relax after a day on the beach, what scents summon long summer days?

Pix Ashworth, founder of land&water, knows summer has arrived when she notices pairs of small-white domed flowers appearing on the woodland floor.

Image credit: Goodrest Studios for land&water

Lily-of-the-valley signals the approaching summer to me; fresh, light and crisp,” she says. “For me, the longer days mean evenings on the coast path or in the garden witnessing explosive growth and fragrances. The ‘hot-lips’ Salvia (so-called for its bi-colours of red and white) is a big favourite for both its gorgeous minty aroma and its enduring flowers; I have several dotted around the garden.

“And I definitely have a mint leaning, using it wherever possible – be it in salads, summer drinks, or with new potatoes.”

Image credit: Goodrest Studios for land&water

When it comes to time indoors, mint is a favourite fragrance for how it “draws the outside in, mimicking that big sky freshness”. For relaxing evenings indoors after long, active days outside, Pix opts for calming essential oils.

“Skin products containing chamomile, to soothe skin redness or irritation from too much sun or bites and stings; and sandalwood, for peace and calm, are a natural draw,” she adds. “Together with sweet almond oil and sea buckthorn oil, we use both these essential oils in our All Elements Skin Balm to help calm and rejuvenate.”

Pairings such as frankincense and clary sage also hold a lot of appeal for Pix, because blending scents is about achieving invigoration and relaxation, “that sweetspot of emotion”.