“The Invisible Garden of Scent”

Noted gardener and garden writer Ken Druse has published a delightful piece in The New York Times this week on incorporating scent and fragrance into one’s garden. It follows the publication of his latest book, ““The Scentual Garden: Exploring the World of Botanical Fragrance,” which won the top honor of the American Horticultural Society for writing, in March. He calls the scent dimension of horticulture the “invisible garden” — not seen, but sensed as a key element of any garden’s appeal and design.

My garden holds many of the plants he mentions; right now, the most fragrant ones in bloom are the roses and gardenias. I also grow rosemary, mint, and basil — all very aromatic, and useful in the kitchen.

I have so many gardening books that I haven’t bought a new one in years, but I may have to make an exception for this one, given how much I love both gardening and fragrance!

Have you read it? Plan to read it? What are your favorite fragrant flowers, and which do you grow at home?

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Il Faut Cultiver Notre Jardin

I haven’t posted here in too long — I spent the month of May posting daily on my other blog, “Serenity Now”, in a “Roses de Mai Marathon” of rose-centered fragrances. It was great fun, and it took my mind off the ongoing pandemic, social isolation, etc. I am privileged to be able to work from home, so my employment has not been interrupted; and my family are all safe and well, which is such a blessing.

The events of the last ten days here in America have been astounding, and it is taking me a while to process them. Meanwhile, we have had a beautiful spring; my own roses have been spectacular (and are now starting a second flush of bloom), and I’ve planted what I call my “virus victory vegetable garden”, which is flourishing. We’ve already harvested our first purple cauliflower, which got much bigger than the photo below, and it was delicious!

The peace and beauty of my city garden, and the weather, contrast so much with the conflict just outside my neighborhood. It is quite jarring, and my husband and I comment on that dissonance often on our regular walks. I’ve been thinking a lot about Voltaire’s famous ending phrase from his novel Candide, “Il faut cultiver notre jardin.” What does it mean?

Literally, in English, it means “We must cultivate our garden.” Sometimes that is taken to mean that it is useless to try to understand or counter the wider world’s troubles, and that all one can do is retreat to one’s own garden.

Tempting as that is, for an introverted gardener like myself, I don’t think that’s it. Or maybe, I prefer to think that’s not it. Adam Gopnik wrote in “The New Yorker” magazine, some years ago, in response to a translator who translated it as “We need to work our fields” (which implies something very different):

By “garden” Voltaire meant a garden, not a field—not the land and task to which we are chained by nature but the better place we build by love. The force of that last great injunction, “We must cultivate our garden,” is that our responsibility is local, and concentrated on immediate action.

Whether or not that is what Voltaire intended over 250 years ago, that resonates with me. So I will cultivate both roses and vegetables in my actual garden, and I will do my best to fulfill my immediate and local responsibilities to advance justice and peace, and build a better place by love. Right here, right now, where I live. After all, bees love flowers, but they are also symbols of peaceful, industrious activity, and community.

If you’ve read this far, I hope you and your family, and your garden, are staying safe and well.

Climate Confusion

It is mid-February, and we have experienced temperature swings from the high 20s F to the low 70s F in less than two weeks! We’ve also had a LOT of rain. My garden is so confused, as are all the gardens in my neighborhood. Winter blossoms are still flowering (hellebores, mahonias, winter annuals like violas, pansies, dianthus, sweet alyssum), spring bulbs are opening (hello, daffodils!), and confused vines, shrubs, and trees that normally flower in March have decided to start blossoming early (Coral Bells azaleas, Clematis armandii, and Magnolia soulangeana).

Clematis armandii in bloom, March 2019
Clematis armandii, mid-March 2019.

 

Of them all, the only ones that I fear will suffer from the upcoming frost are the saucer magnolias, whose fragrant pink flowers will likely turn brown and drop. So sad, as they are one of my favorite trees and they scent the air with an incomparable fragrance! I hope some of the magnolias in my neighborhood will hold off long enough to provide abundant blossoms after next weekend, when we expect another frost. I don’t (yet) have a saucer magnolia in my own garden, but if/when I plant one, I will try to choose a later-blooming variety as well as a more compact one. Any suggestions?

Blossoming pink saucer magnolia
Magnolia soulangeana; mid-March 2019.

Daffodils, overnight!

Cicely Mary Barker, The Daffodil Fairy, www.flowerfairies.com

We had a very warm couple of days but then the weather turned gray, gloomy and cold again, with only a sprinkle of snowdrops and one lone narcissus up to prove that I had in fact labored long and hard to plant dozens of new bulbs for this spring. Imagine my delight, then, when I got up this morning to find three whole patches of early daffodils in bloom!

I love daffodils — they may be my favorite flower, inching ahead of hyacinths, roses, and even lilies of the valley. I’m always so happy to see their brightness against what still looks like a wintry, though snow-free, landscape. Do you have bulbs coming up yet? What are your favorites?

Featured image: The Daffodil Fairy, by Cicely Mary Barker.