The Sunday Times Gardening Book of the Year 2019
In Scent Magic, a book which is at once romantic and extremely practical, plantswoman, designer and garden-maker extraordinaire Isabel Bannerman immerses the reader in the luscious smells of the fragrant garden through a warmly written account of her year’s gardening; and combines this with an encyclopaedic reference work of the best aromatic plants to grow throughout the seasons. Whether evoking the freshly baked sponge smell emanating from wisteria, describing ‘Stanwell Perpetual’ as "the kind of rose that would taste of apricot and raspberries swirled together", or championing the magic of the Himalayan cowslip, "scented profoundly and deliciously like the dark vault of a Damascus spice merchant’" the glorious poetry of her descriptions is here joined with personal memories and a lifetime’s experience of gardening and plant cultivation.
Isabel Bannerman was born in London in 1962, the youngest of five children. She began gardening when, as a university student, she met Julian Bannerman, owner of Bannerman's Bar in Edinburgh. Together they moved to a derelict baroque mansion in Wiltshire and camped whilst restoring the house and starting to design gardens and garden buildings for a living. With a lot of luck and hard work they established a practice, winning Gold Medals at Chelsea and working for HRH The Prince of Wales and clients from the worlds of fashion and film. Isabel has taken photographs since she was at school and began making her particular style of botanical scans in 2003. She has had four solo shows of her work, which is in the collections of Jasper Conran, and Richard E Grant. She writes occasional gardening pieces for the Telegraph and Sunday Times. She wrote and photographed Landscape Of Dreams (Pimpernel Press, 2016), describing fourteen gardens created by the Bannermans and their way of working together. Scent Magic is her second book, and is the result of ten years researching and note-taking on her favourite subject, scent in the garden.
"Essentially Scent Magic is a series of musings: lyrical, intimate, unique, often random, always interesting...part private reflection, part plant history. In her preface Bannerman warns: 'information is everywhere, information is cheap, so this book is not really about information...the intention is simply to encourage curiosity.' In that she succeeds brilliantly."
"A gloriously sensual diary of her garden’s smells, magically charting the turning of a growing year from the intense frankincense-like perfume of the winter-flowering witchhazel, Hamamelis ‘Advent’, to the sweet summer fruitiness of honeysuckle. A book to treasure."
"There's a runaway winner among the gardening books this year: Scent Magic: Notes from a Gardener. It's intoxicating; there's never been a book quite like it...Any gardener will come away from this book full of excited plans for planting but it is no less enthralling for those who merely enjoy gardens, those who have sensuality in life, which is to say, this book would make a genuinely life-enhancing present for almost anybody."
"Highly poetic...Isabel Bannerman has written a book that almost incidentally describes plants' perfumes while giving a massively informative tour of her garden and of garden plants in general. She is the perfect hostess - intelligent, travelled, well-connected, charming, intimate, wry, a hard-drinking and altogether delightful character."
"In this lyrical book, [Bannerman] leads us by the nose...writing the way she plants, to lush effect. The photographs...and plant portraits are wondrous."
"The author explores the smells of the plant kingdom in her own inimitable style, combining poetic descriptions with hands-on, practical knowledge."
"I was thoroughly transported...it’s as much a memoir through a lifetime of appreciating the fragrance of the seasons as it is a plant guide. This is a beautiful and moving book, something to linger over, to cherish — and to remind us, as Bannerman writes, 'this is a great day to inhale'."
"Part diary and part practical guide to perfumed plants, illustrated with [the author's] own photographs, it is a dream of a book, wandering off down scented pathways of memories, moods and moments past."
"Follows its nose to some intriguing places."
"Evocative descriptions of favourite scented plants are interspersed through the diary-like text, with the author's own photographs lighting up the pages. A book to lose yourself in."
"There hasn't been a decent book on the notoriously elusive and subjective topic of garden scents for more than 20 years, so it is pleasant to be able wholeheartedly to recommend Scent Magic...a stylish, highly personal, scientifically illuminating account - part diary, part plant description - of her encounters with scented plants, both actual and in memory, through the course of one year."
"Part-practical handbook, part-autobiography, part-philosophical reflection on art and Nature...this book is an absolute feast, not only for gardeners, but for anyone interested in art and Nature and in living well."
"A collection of notes, memories and beautifully detailed observations of fragrance throughout the year....This has to be one of the most beautifully written pieces I have read in a long time...it brings to mind the writing of Vita Sackville West. The book is illustrated with gorgeous garden photography by the author and many of Isabel's striking botanical portraits. Scent Magic is a wonderfully romantic book and should sit on the book shelf of anyone who likes to sit and bask in the seasons as they pass. It is a love letter to the easily missed details in the gardening year and shows how plants can seep into every corner of life."