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?
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.
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.
I’ve neglected blogging for a few reasons, the most important of which is that two friends of mine recently experienced sudden deaths in their families, one a husband, another a young adult son. As a result, I was going to memorial services and receptions, and creating flower arrangements for one of those. The bereaved widow is Asian-American, born in Hong Kong, so I did a little research into appropriate flowers. The main thing I learned is that one CANNOT use the color red, and white is the most appropriate color. One can combine it with touches of blue or yellow. So off to Trader Joe’s I went, because they have beautiful bunches of fresh flowers ready to be arranged, and also potted orchids for reasonable prices.
I was very pleased with the final result: one big arrangement with lots of fragrant white Oriental lilies, pale blue delphiniums, and green Bells of Ireland for the main table, and several potted orchids to put on other tables. I also used white evening stock and a softer form of eucalyptus than one usually sees, both very fragrant. In the face of death, one feels so helpless to do or say anything useful. Providing the flowers helped.
After my bout of flower arranging, I started planting the MANY bulbs I bought a couple of weeks ago. I love spring bulbs, and I always buy and plant as many daffodils, jonquils, and other narcissi as I can. Some go in the ground; some go in outdoor pots; some go in pots that I will force indoors. One of the reasons I love these flowers so much is their fragrance. I also cherish their bright colors and graceful shapes. One of my favorites is “Thalia”, a graceful jonquil with white flowers that almost look like orchids. Another is “February Gold”, an early variety that returns reliably year after year in my garden. Its cheerful yellow flowers are a sign that spring has arrived, though they don’t appear as early as a wonderful daffodil, “Rijnveld’s Early Sensation”. When I’ve had that in my garden, it has started blooming in late January. Marvelous!
So I’ve been very, very busy, though not without fragrance. I’m also now quite stiff, having spent hours on my knees, trowel in hand. I have many more to go, so wish me luck! My son helped me replace some half-dead azaleas a couple of weeks ago; thank goodness, I was able to find the same old-fashioned variety (“Coral Bells”) at our local state farmer’s market, because they are part of a gorgeous hedge of pink azaleas. You can’t find it at retail nurseries any more, but there is a nursery supplier at the farmer’s market who always has them. Whew! Have you been doing any fall planting?
I’ve just discovered a fragrance that is perfect for any gardener! It is called Gardener’s Glove and it is made by an artisanal dairy farmer called Diane St. Clair, who makes some of the finest butter in the world at her farm in Vermont. If you’re not already charmed by now, I don’t know what to tell you. Her fragrance company is called St. Clair Scents.
This is a tardy Saturday Snippet, posted on a Sunday because I spent most of yesterday actually planting things in my garden! But I have the perfect reason to post this weekend, complete with literary tie-in: my new rosebush, Le Petit Prince.
Also known as La Rose du Petit Prince, this beautiful rose is named for the classic novella Le Petit Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, which features a Rose who is the Little Prince’s responsibility and love, in spite of her flaws.
“For over 50 years the Pépinières et Roseraies Georges Delbard nursery gardeners have been creating exceptional roses. Very possibly you have a Claude Monet or Comtesse de Ségur rose bush growing in your garden … It was back in 2008 that they first thought of creating the Little Prince rose in partnership with the Petits Princes Association! It was altogether fitting that the celebrated little fair-haired Prince who was so attached to his flower should have a rose named after him. With its beautiful mauve petals with hints of violet, the Little Prince Rose reminds us of both the sweetness and the power of children’s dreams. This admirable partnership hoped by means of this initiative to send a message of hope to all sick children. For each rose bush sold, 2 euros are paid to the association, in order to perpetuate their action.
This very beautiful rose has also won several awards in the context of the Grand Prix de la Rose. This year it won the 1st prize, thanks above all to its original scent!”
When I saw this rose at the local garden center, with flowers that read more of a pale pink to my eyes than mauve, then read its name, and smelled its heavenly, lemony-rose fragrance, I knew this little prince had to come home with me.
One of the most famous passages in Le Petit Prince describes the little prince’s leave-taking from the fox he has tamed, at the fox’s own request:
“Go and look again at the roses. You will understand now that yours is unique in all the world. Then come back to say goodbye to me, and I will make you a present of a secret.”
The little prince went away, to look again at the roses.
“You are not at all like my rose,” he said. “As yet you are nothing. No one has tamed you, and you have tamed no one. You are like my fox when I first knew him. He was only a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But I have made him my friend, and now he is unique in all the world.”
And the roses were very much embarassed.
“You are beautiful, but you are empty,” he went on. “One could not die for you. To be sure, an ordinary passerby would think that my rose looked just like you–the rose that belongs to me. But in herself alone she is more important than all the hundreds of you other roses: because it is she that I have watered; because it is she that I have put under the glass globe; because it is she that I have sheltered behind the screen; because it is for her that I have killed the caterpillars (except the two or three that we saved to become butterflies); because it is she that I have listened to, when she grumbled, or boasted, or even sometimes when she said nothing. Because she is my rose.
And he went back to meet the fox.
“Goodbye,” he said.
“Goodbye,” said the fox. “And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
“What is essential is invisible to the eye,” the little prince repeated, so that he would be sure to remember.
“It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.”
“It is the time I have wasted for my rose–” said the little prince, so that he would be sure to remember.
“Men have forgotten this truth,” said the fox. “But you must not forget it. You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed. You are responsible for your rose . . .”
“I am responsible for my rose,” the little prince repeated, so that he would be sure to remember.
Welcome to my garden, Little Prince!
Featured illustrations: from Le Petit Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupery; in public domain in the U.S., still copyrighted in France.
I have a odd but pleasing book called “Recreating the Period Garden”. It was published by the National Trust and edited by one of my favorite garden writers, the great gardener Graham Stuart Thomas, with contributions by six other distinguished English garden writers. This week’s Snippet is from the Foreword by Graham Stuart Thomas:
Many of us start gardening in a small area of ground in our parents’ garden. After this early start, apart from a certain amount of grass-cutting, hedge-clipping and the like, the pursuit of gardening remains in abeyance until we own a house with the surrounding plot of land. Then gardening starts in earnest if we are that way inclined.
The foreword goes on to muse on how many of us then progress to visiting famous gardens from which we draw a pastiche of ideas from different periods. But what I like about it is this evocation of how many of use became gardeners. I got my start in gardening helping my parents: my father with his large vegetable garden (which I hated, as most of my chores there involved weeding in the hot sun), and my mother with her planters on the deck behind our modern house. That was much more fun, as it also gave me the opportunity of having some of her time and attention, which, as a quiet middle child of three, I often craved. I always loved flowers, though, and often had pots of my own plants, indoors and out. I did enjoy the many pots of forced bulbs my father planted every fall and brought out one at a time starting in late winter and early spring.
I haven’t posted here in a while because I have been traveling in the UK with my family. We visited many beautiful gardens, but one of my favorites was The Lost Gardens of Heligan.
Heligan is an old estate that once had hundreds of acres of formal, informal and tropical gardens, maintained by a staff of twenty-two. After World War I, when many of the workers did not return from the war, the estate slowly declined. The gardens were abandoned by the 1970s, while the main house was sold and divided into private apartments.
In 1990, a man named Tim Smit (who later created the Eden Project) was shown the property by one of its owners, a descendant of the Tremayne family that had owned Heligan for 400 years. The property was held in a trust for him and his sister. They hacked their way through brambles and old hedges to find the remaining original garden structures and landscaping. The work they did over decades to restore the gardens, install sculptures and make Heligan a unique destination for visitors is described in Tim Smit’s book, The Lost Gardens of Heligan. This week’s Saturday Snippet is taken from that book:
We had cut our way through dense clumps of invasive bamboo, drawn towards a perfectly formed palm that stood sentinel at the entrance to what was obviously a walled garden. John Nelson and I were on another of our explorations, venturing deeper into the gardens each time. Today we were excited; somehow we knew it was going to be a special day. You can feel these things.
Once inside, we paused for a moment. There was a sense that we were trespassing, that we had come upon a secret shrine. In the gloaming we could see dozens of trees growing thickly together, woven into a solid mass by an extremely vigorous climbing plant that covered everything like a furry blanket. We had never seen anything like this before. Under the trees we could make out shapes at once familiar and other-worldly. This was clearly the area of the garden where the real work had taken place.
I spent the whole month of May posting about lily of the valley-based fragrances on my other blog, Serenity Now, in a series I called “May Muguet Marathon.” While I was doing that and reading a lot online about lilies of the valley, I came across a variety I have long wanted to try in my own garden, Convallaria majalis “Bordeaux.” It was on sale, so of course I bought 40 pips! My teenaged son helped me create a new planting bed for them by spreading many cubic feet of mushroom compost on top of the clayish soil between several old azaleas and the base of our house’s front terrace, a partly shaded area that is well-watered by our in-ground sprinkler system. He turned it in for me; I hope this will provide a suitable habitat! Lilies of the valley do not become invasive here in the South as they do further north; in fact, sometimes they struggle. Fingers crossed that “Bordeaux” finds a happy home here!
I also bought some pips of Convallaria majalis “Prolificans”, which many sellers describe as “double-flowered”, but it is not a true double flower, as can be seen in this photo:
Rather, it has clusters of tiny, single flowers that dangle together from the main stalk, creating the look of double flowers. The true double-flowered lily of the valley is “Flore Pleno”:
I hope my new lilies of the valley find themselves happy in their new home and spread profusely! I would welcome what plant-hunter Reginald Farrer described as “the worst of all delicious weeds when it thrives.”