On the drive home from work, I find that stopping for a large chocolate chip cookie and a Frappuchino from Starbucks is often just the pick-me-up I need to transition from work to home, where I will be greeted by a gregarious old yellow lab and a still-very-wiggly seven-year-old boy, both of whom will be requesting play and attention. (The martini, slippers, and newspaper are nowhere in sight!)
Anyway, lately I have been indulging in another covert little ritual before I enter the house, which helps my cares float away almost as well as a cookie or a martini.
Only this ritual isn’t fattening!
See what I do is, I pull into the driveway and get out of the car kind of quietly. I don’t slam the car door too hard because if I announce my presence, dog and boy will likely come bounding out of the house to greet me, which is totally sweet and everything, but this particular little ritual requires solitude and quiet. So here it is:
I grab my purse and keys, but instead of going in the house right away I tiptoe into the side yard where I have planted a little cloister of scented plants — peonies, roses, some scented geraniums. Bordered on one side by a tall hedge of evergreens and on the other by our house, this little area is completely private — no neighbors or pedestrians can peer in. And in the afternoon it is drenched in golden sunshine, so fragrances are at their peak.
All it takes is a minute or two meandering down the walkway, bending down to smell the ‘Festiva Maxima’ peonies, drinking in the warm perfumy smell, to begin loosening that hard little knot of stress that I often bring home with me. I move on to the ‘Therese Bugnet’ rose, lighter, sweeter, and fruitier than the peony. This particular specimen is kind of gangly, and the blooms themselves are nothing to write home about aesthetically, but the aroma has earned this rose a place in my garden.
If I’ve had a really bad day I will also crouch down and breathe in the amazing spicy fragrance of Geranium ‘Biokovo’. If an especially strong hit is needed I brush the leaves with my hand a little. From a distance this geranium appears to just sit there at the base of some shrubs, minding its own business, but it offers an incredible treat for the nose if you bother move in a bit closer.
Yup, a few moments alone in the sunshine sniffing flowers and I’m ready to face whatever awaits me indoors: dirty dishes, cluttered tabletops, games of Candyland, bring it on!
The older I get, the more I appreciate how things smell. I know that sounds a little weird, but it’s true.
My mother, age 78, no longer has a sense of smell. Several years ago, she was out taking a walk and fell, hitting her head on the sidewalk. The blow left her with a long scar over her eye and apparently scrambled some olfactory nerves. She cannot smell the food she cooks for Sunday dinners, she cannot smell her favorite Bath and Bodyworks lotion, and she cannot smell flowers. (On the positive side, she also cannot smell skunks, dog-doo, or burnt popcorn, so it’s not all bad.)
If you had to lose one of your senses, I suppose your sense of smell would be the least devastating, but still, it’s a loss. And now that I have become a gardener, I think that missing out on fragrance would be a serious loss indeed.
This past weekend I visited a local farmers’ market with my husband and son. The vendors set up their stalls in the large parking lot of a train station, so it’s not exactly the most bucolic setting. But as we drove into the lot in my husband’s Mustang (top down) we were greeted by the most divine fragrance! It just came pouring over us. The source? Mounds of honeysuckle at the edge of the woods that bordered the concrete lot. The stuff was just smothering the poor trees, and I know it’s mega invasive, but Lord did it ever bring some joy to that sad old parking lot on a June morning. Drinking it in, I remembered the vine that grew on our chain-link fence growing up. I remember plucking the flowers, pulling the stamens out, sucking the nectar off the petals. Is this a universal childhood memory? Long live honeysuckle.
Another time that I was pleasantly assaulted by fragrance was on a long road trip to Canada a few years ago. There were five of us crammed in the car for the eleven hour drive to Niagara Falls — including two teenagers and a cranky toddler. The mood had been soured early by a speeding ticket I’d received on the Pennsylvania Turnpike (that whole highway is a trap!) and so tensions were high when we stopped somewhere in New York to switch drivers. We’d pulled over onto a small gravel shoulder at an exit, and when I got out of the car I was bowled over by it. Sweet heaven! Utter deliciousness in the air! I looked up. Towering over us was an expansive grove of black locust trees, the creamy blossoms exploding with scent. What I remember thinking: I want to stay here. I don’t want to get back in the car.
The longer I garden, the more I appreciate and plant for fragrance — even if, as with peonies and roses, it is short-lived. Interesting smells –whether they are soothing, provocative, romantic, whatever — add that layer which elevates a garden from a mere place to an experience.
Planning a garden to please the nose is harder than planning a garden to please eye. Year-round color? No problem! Year round fragrance? Much harder. Right now I have a big gap between my Sarcococca and my Fothergilla, and November-January is basically a dead zone smell-wise.
Besides the ones I’ve mentioned, my smelly plant list includes: lavender, sweetbay magnolia, kolkwitzia, lindera (when you crush the leaves they smell like Pine Sol), Pink Dawn Viburnum, and various herbs and annuals in the summer. I would love to hear any recommendations you all have for fragrant plants to assist me in the expansion of my aromatic paradise.