Recently given a bouquet of peonies, I was admiring their beauty but reflecting that they could never be among my favourite flowers because they have little scent.    Although when I complained about this lack to a friend with a lovely garden, he promptly escorted me to a clump which did indeed have a sweet and delicate fragrance.

I seem to like my indoor flowers opulent and showy – the orchids and lilies like starlets on a stage – no shrinking violets for me.   In our house we usually have lilies – I like the huge white scented ones, the red spotted stargazers, the pale pinks; or orchids with their waxy hothouse beauty.   Lovely though they are with their exotic formal beauty, orchids could never rise to top my favourites list because their perfume is either very faint, or in some cases downright unpleasant.   I also love garden flowers and wild ones but I can never bear to pick them.

And how the flowers reflect the seasons.   Spring with the welcome sweet white narcissus and later in that fortnight of glory, the lilacs of whom the purple flowered smells slightly different from the later white.    High summer of course brings that queen of the scented kingdom, the rose, with its peppery fragrance.    Later, the delicate sweet pea delights us.   The pungent smell of the pelargonium leaf, which I do like, does not appeal to everyone.   Winter has few flowery scents – though it has characteristic ones like wood smoke – but spring is heralded before it arrives by the teasing wafts of elusive daphne bholua, and by the bowls of hyacinths.   Some flowers delight us by their scarcity value – would the wonderfully fragrant lily of the valley be so beloved if instead of its tiny inconspicuous – but beautiful bells – it was bright and showy?

Not all flowers smell delightful of course.   Daisies are rather pungent; some orchids smell of rotting flesh.    Other smells in themselves pleasant – such as philadelphus or mock orange, can, on a hot day become overpowering and headache inducing.

The seasons themselves have a recognisable smell – there’s the fresh, green smell of spring;   the hot and dusty taste of summer;   and who has not gone out into her garden on a perfectly nice late summer’s day and caught the smell of Autumn, damp, smoky, indescribable but recognisable, far off and down wind, yet fast approaching?

Countries have a distinctive smell.    I don’t think you recognise the smell of your own – it’s like your regular perfume; you no longer notice it.   But Thailand smells of sweaty trainers.   Australia smells sharp and pungent with overtones of menthol.     India smells of spices.    Sweden smells of pine tree resin.

We can often smell bodies of water long before we see them.   It surprised me how very different in scent are the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.    The Atlantic, in whose salty arms we rest, is a brawling virago, with an astringent, salty, stormy, ozone laden smell.    She can be moody and temperamental, and is to be treated with respect but she protects us and is our mother.   Whereas the Pacific on the other hand smells sweet, with a hint of honeyed spices and tropical islands, and she sweeps in, sea green and lovely with garlands in her  hair.   She’s not to be trusted at all.

There are evocative domestic smells.   I can still recall the difference in the smell of my grandfather’s jacket – tweed and the sweet pipe tobacco he smoked; and my father’s tweed laden with honey and the smoke he used to quieten the bees.   And what about the almost edible smell of baby, milky, sweet, clean?     Or that smell, slightly like once worn socks but not unpleasant, when you pushed your face into your cat’s fur?

I’ll close with the tale of how we left Scotland, the land of our birth.   We had lived in our house in Central Scotland for the 12 years of our marriage.   At the back and corner of the house, underneath the dining room window, we had planted a honeysuckle.   I imagined that in summer the glorious smell of honeysuckle would seep in through the open window and intoxicate us.   The plant grew – the gardener (John) tended it.   It took so many years to flower that the impatient gardener was for uprooting it, but I always granted it stay of execution.   Eventually, it did flower, but I was bitterly disappointed – no fragrance.   Since I had purchased it expressly for its scent, if I had remembered where I’d bought it I’d have gone back and complained.   Still, it did look pretty.   Now although I have always been someone who likes to ride out at dawn with the day fresh and promising unknown adventure before you, I also felt sad at leaving my native land.   Once you leave a place, it is no longer yours, and even if you do return – which I had no expectation of doing – you are not any more  the person you once were nor is it the same as when you left it.   I had loved my country, enjoyed my house – all my children had been born there, and now I was leaving it.   So I came down the echoing stairs, through the dust and general disorder, paintings stripped from the walls, the dog anxious.    I walked towards the dining room window to see what the July day had to offer and was ambushed by a strong, sweet and unexpected perfume which danced around me and filled up the whole house.   Our honeysuckle, tardy and slow as it had been, had at last, on our final day, got its act together just in time and now it embraced us with its fragrant valediction.

I had been whispering my sorrow into the wind for weeks and no answer had come back to me.   I felt as if my beloved country, waiting to the very last, had blessed me in the leaving of it.

So, may Scotland bloom forever, even though it is no longer mine.

I’ll leave you with this link to a beautiful song about exile, written as a poem by Violet Jacobs, and sung in this recording by Jim Reid.     The song is called the Wild Geese, and here is Eugene’s photograph of geese rising up in flight at Gruinart.   The photo of an orchid above was taken by John in Japan.

http://www.springthyme.co.uk/album15/15go.html .

About adhocannie
I am a good natured woman with a long memory and a swift tongue. I like loooking at things and thinking about them. Also food, clothes, travel, reading, sewing. I try to see the ridiculous in things, but sobriety of reflection keeps edgting in. I have husband, children, grandchildren, friends... I feel rich in things that matter. I am a happy exile. I like writing. I do not like talking about me (though I do.). You willl be much more interesting.

2 Responses to AHEAD BY A NOSE

  1. Eugene Windsor says:

    When I heard you were planning a blog on “smells of Scotland” I rather cynically suggested sweat, cigarettes, alcohol, diesel, deep fat frying and burning tyres. Setting that aside, however, the two floral scents that I associate most deeply with childhood are those that define, for me, spring and summer respectively: wallflowers and night-scented stock, perhaps because these were things that we were able to grow as children. The night-scented stock in particular evokes memories of summer nights that no longer exist when you are grown up – dark, but never really dark, up later than normal and lots of exotic night-flying insects on the wing. And on the more more mechanical front, the smell of steam locomotives is another one that, when you occasionally get a whiff of it, is very evocative of times that are gone forever. On a similar theme, the Glasgow subway, before it was modernised in 1978, had a famoulsy musty smell all of its own.

  2. adhocannie says:

    Oh yes. I remember I used to stand at the entrances to the Underground, sniffing. I love the smell of night scented stock too.

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