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Wood and Garden: Notes and Thoughts, Practical and Critical, of a Working Amateur

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<SPAN name="Page_229" id="Page_229"></SPAN>[229]</div> <h2>CHAPTER XIX</h2> <h4>THE SCENTS OF THE GARDEN</h4> <p><br />The sweet scents of a garden are by no means the least of its many delights. Even January brings <i>Chimonanthus fragrans</i>, one of the sweetest and strongest scented of the year's blooms&mdash;little half-transparent yellowish bells on an otherwise naked-looking wall shrub. They have no stalks, but if they are floated in a shallow dish of water, they last well for several days, and give off a powerful fragrance in a room.</p> <p>During some of the warm days that nearly always come towards the end of February, if one knows where to look in some sunny, sheltered corner of a hazel copse, there will be sure to be some Primroses, and the first scent of the year's first Primrose is no small pleasure. The garden Primroses soon follow, and, meanwhile, in all open winter weather there have been Czar Violets and <i>Iris stylosa</i>, with its delicate scent, faintly violet-like, but with a dash of tulip. <i>Iris reticulata</i> is also sweet, with a still stronger perfume of the violet character. But of all Irises I know, the sweetest to smell is a later blooming one, <i>I. graminea</i>. Its small purple flowers are almost hidden among the <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_230" id="Page_230"></SPAN>[230]</span>thick mass of grassy foliage which rises high above the bloom; but they are worth looking for, for the sake of the sweet and rather penetrating scent, which is exactly like that of a perfectly-ripened plum.</p> <p>All the scented flowers of the Primrose tribe are delightful&mdash;Primrose, Polyanthus, Auricula, Cowslip. The actual sweetness is most apparent in the Cowslip; in the Auricula it has a pungency, and at the same time a kind of veiled mystery, that accords with the clouded and curiously-blended colourings of many of the flowers.</p> <p>Sweetbriar is one of the strongest of the year's early scents, and closely following is the woodland incense of the Larch, both freely given off and far-wafted, as is also that of the hardy Daphnes. The first quarter of the year also brings the bloom of most of the deciduous Magnolias, all with a fragrance nearly allied to that of the large one that blooms late in summer, but not so strong and heavy.</p> <p>The sweetness of a sun-baked bank of Wallflower belongs to April. Daffodils, lovely as they are, must be classed among flowers of rather rank smell, and yet it is welcome, for it means spring-time, with its own charm and its glad promise of the wealth of summer bloom that is soon to come. The scent of the Jonquil, Poeticus, and Polyanthus sections are best, Jonquil perhaps best of all, for it is without the rather coarse scent of the Trumpets and Nonsuch, and also escapes the penetrating lusciousness of <i>poeticus</i> and <i>tazetta</i>, <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_231" id="Page_231"></SPAN>[231]</span>which in the south of Europe is exaggerated in the case of <i>tazetta</i> into something distinctly unpleasant.</p> <p>What a delicate refinement there is in the scent of the wild Wood-Violet; it is never overdone. It seems to me to be quite the best of all the violet-scents, just because of its temperate quality. It gives exactly enough, and never that perhaps-just-a-trifle-too-much that may often be noticed about a bunch of frame-Violets, and that also in the south is intensified to a degree that is distinctly undesirable. For just as colour may be strengthened to a painful glare, and sound may be magnified to a torture, so even a sweet scent may pass its appointed bounds and become an overpoweringly evil smell. Even in England several of the Lilies, whose smell is delicious in open-air wafts, cannot be borne in a room. In the south of Europe a Tuberose cannot be brought indoors, and even at home I remember one warm wet August how a plant of Balm of Gilead (<i>Cedronella triphylla</i>) had its always powerful but usually agreeably aromatic smell so much exaggerated that it smelt exactly like coal-gas! A brother in Jamaica writes of the large white Jasmine: "It does not do to bring it indoors here; the scent is too strong. One day I thought there was a dead rat under the floor (a thing which did happen once), and behold, it was a glassful of fresh white Jasmine that was the offender!"</p> <p>While on this less pleasant part of the subject, I cannot help thinking of the horrible smell of the <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_232" id="Page_232"></SPAN>[232]</span>Dragon Arum; and yet how fitting an accompaniment it is to the plant, for if ever there was a plant that looked wicked and repellent, it is this; and yet, like Medusa, it has its own kind of fearful beauty. In this family the smell seems to accompany the appearance, and to diminish in unpleasantness as the flower increases in amiability; for in our native wild Arum the smell, though not exactly nice, is quite innocuous, and in the beautiful white Arum or <i>Calla</i> of our greenhouses there is as little scent as a flower can well have, especially one of such large dimensions. In Fungi the bad smell is nearly always an indication of poisonous nature, so that it would seem to be given as a warning. But it has always been a matter of wonder to me why the root of the harmless and friendly Laurustinus should have been given a particularly odious smell&mdash;a smell I would rather not attempt to describe. On moist warmish days in mid-seasons I have sometimes had a whiff of the same unpleasantness from the bushes themselves; others of the same tribe have it in a much lesser degree. There is a curious smell about the yellow roots of Berberis, not exactly nasty, and a strong odour, not really offensive, but that I personally dislike, about the root of <i>Chrysanthemum maximum</i>. On the other hand, I always enjoy digging up, dividing, and replanting the <i>Asarums</i>, both the common European and the American kinds; their roots have a pleasant and most interesting smell, a good deal like mild pepper and ginger mixed, but more strongly <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_233" id="Page_233"></SPAN>[233]</span>aromatic. The same class of smell, but much fainter, and always reminding me of very good and delicate pepper, I enjoy in the flowers of the perennial Lupines. The only other hardy flowers I can think of whose smell is distinctly offensive are <i>Lilium pyrenaicum</i>, smelling like a mangy dog, and some of the <i>Schizanthus</i>, that are redolent of dirty hen-house.</p> <p>There is a class of scent that, though it can neither be called sweet nor aromatic, is decidedly pleasing and interesting. Such is that of Bracken and other Fern-fronds, Ivy-leaves, Box-bushes, Vine-blossom, Elder-flowers, and Fig-leaves. There are the sweet scents that are wholly delightful&mdash;most of the Roses, Honeysuckle, Primrose, Cowslip, Mignonette, Pink, Carnation, Heliotrope, Lily of the Valley, and a host of others; then there is a class of scent that is intensely powerful, and gives an impression almost of intemperance or voluptuousness, such as Magnolia, Tuberose, Gardenia, Stephanotis, and Jasmine; it is strange that these all have white flowers of thick leathery texture. In strongest contrast to these are the sweet, wholesome, wind-wafted scents of clover-field, of bean-field, and of new-mown hay, and the soft honey-scent of sun-baked heather, and of a buttercup meadow in April. Still more delicious is the wind-swept sweetness of a wood of Larch or of Scotch Fir, and the delicate perfume of young-leaved Birch, or the heavier scent of the flowering Lime. Out on the moorlands, besides the sweet heather-scent, is that of flowering Broom and Gorse <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_234" id="Page_234"></SPAN>[234]</span>and of the Bracken, so like the first smell of the sea as you come near it after a long absence.</p> <p>How curiously scents of flowers and leaves fall into classes&mdash;often one comes upon related smells running into one another in not necessarily related plants. There is a kind of scent that I sometimes meet with, about clumps of Brambles, a little like the waft of a Fir wood; it occurs again (quite naturally) in the first taste of blackberry jam, and then turns up again in Sweet Sultan. It is allied to the smell of the dying Strawberry leaves.</p> <p>The smell of the Primrose occurs again in a much stronger and ranker form in the root-stock, and the same thing happens with the Violets and Pansies; in Violets the plant-smell is pleasant, though without the high perfume of the flower; but the smell of an overgrown bed of Pansy-plants is rank to offensiveness.</p> <p>Perhaps the most delightful of all flower scents are those whose tender and delicate quality makes one wish for just a little more. Such a scent is that of Apple-blossom, and of some small Pansies, and of the wild Rose and the Honeysuckle. Among Roses alone the variety and degree of sweet scent seems almost infinite. To me the sweetest of all is the Provence, the old Cabbage Rose of our gardens. When something approaching this appears, as it frequently does, among the hybrid perpetuals, I always greet it as the real sweet Rose smell. One expects every Rose to be <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_235" id="Page_235"></SPAN>[235]</span>fragrant, and it is a disappointment to find that such a beautiful flower as Baroness Rothschild is wanting in the sweet scent that would be the fitting complement of its incomparable form, and to perceive in so handsome a Rose as Malmaison a heavy smell of decidedly bad quality. But such cases are not frequent.</p> <p>There is much variety in the scent of the Tea-Roses, the actual tea flavour being strongest in the Dijon class. Some have a powerful scent that is very near that of a ripe Nectarine; of this the best example I know is the old rose Goubault. The half-double red Gloire de Rosam´┐Żne has a delightful scent of a kind that is rare among Roses. It has a good deal of the quality of that mysterious and delicious smell given off by the dying strawberry leaves, aromatic, pungent, and delicately refined, searching and powerful, and yet subtle and elusive&mdash;the best sweet smell of all the year. One cannot have it for the seeking; it comes as it will&mdash;a scent that is sad as a forecast of the inevitable certainty of the flower-year's waning, and yet sweet with the promise of its timely new birth.</p> <p>Sometimes I have met with a scent of somewhat the same mysterious and aromatic kind when passing near a bank clothed with the great St. John's Wort. As this also occurs in early autumn, I suppose it to be occasioned by the decay of some of the leaves. And there is a small yellow-flowered Potentilla that has a scent of the same character, but always freely and willingly given off&mdash;a humble-looking little plant, well <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_236" id="Page_236"></SPAN>[236]</span>worth growing for its sweetness, that much to my regret I have lost.</p> <p>I observe that when a Rose exists in both single and double form the scent is increased in the double beyond the proportion that one would expect. <i>Rosa lucida</i> in the ordinary single state has only a very slight scent; in the lovely double form it is very sweet, and has acquired somewhat of the Moss-rose smell. The wild Burnet-rose (<i>R. spinosissima</i>) has very little smell; but the Scotch Briars, its garden relatives, have quite a powerful fragrance, a pale flesh-pink kind, whose flowers are very round and globe-like, being the sweetest of all.</p> <p>But of all the sweet scents of bush or flower, the ones that give me the greatest pleasure are those of the aromatic class, where they seem to have a wholesome resinous or balsamic base, with a delicate perfume added. When I pick and crush in my hand a twig of Bay, or brush against a bush of Rosemary, or tread upon a tuft of Thyme, or pass through incense-laden brakes of Cistus, I feel that here is all that is best and purest and most refined, and nearest to poetry, in the range of faculty of the sense of smell.</p> <p>The scents of all these sweet shrubs, many of them at home in dry and rocky places in far-away lower latitudes, recall in a way far more distinct than can be done by a mere mental effort of recollection, rambles of years ago in many a lovely southern land&mdash;in the islands of the Greek Archipelago, beautiful in <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_237" id="Page_237"></SPAN>[237]</span>form, and from a distance looking bare and arid, and yet with a scattered growth of lowly, sweet-smelling bush and herb, so that as you move among them every plant seems full of sweet sap or aromatic gum, and as you tread the perfumed carpet the whole air is scented; then of dusky groves of tall Cypress and Myrtle, forming mysterious shadowy woodland temples that unceasingly offer up an incense of their own surpassing fragrance, and of cooler hollows in the same lands and in the nearer Orient, where the Oleander grows like the willow of the north, and where the Sweet Bay throws up great tree-like suckers of surprising strength and vigour. It is only when one has seen it grow like this that one can appreciate the full force of the old Bible simile. Then to find oneself standing (while still on earth) in a grove of giant Myrtles fifteen feet high is like having a little chink of the door of heaven opened, as if to show a momentary glimpse of what good things may be beyond!</p> <p>Among the sweet shrubs from the nearer of these southern regions, one of the best for English gardens is <i>Cistus laurifolius</i>. Its wholesome, aromatic sweetness is freely given off, even in winter. In this, as in its near relative, <i>C. ladaniferus</i>, the scent seems to come from the gummy surface, and not from the body of the leaf. <i>Caryopteris Mastacanthus</i>, the Mastic plant, from China, one of the few shrubs that flower in autumn, has strongly-scented woolly leaves, something like turpentine, but more refined. <i>Ledum palustre</i> has a delightful <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_238" id="Page_238"></SPAN>[238]</span>scent when its leaves are bruised. The wild Bog-myrtle, so common in Scotland, has almost the sweetness of the true Myrtle, as has also the broad-leaved North American kind, and the Candleberry Gale (<i>Comptonia asplenifolia</i>) from the same country. The myrtle-leaved Rhododendron is a dwarf shrub of neat habit, whose bruised leaves have also a myrtle-like smell, though it is less strong than in the Gales. I wonder why the leaves of nearly all the hardy aromatic shrubs are of a hard, dry texture; the exceptions are so few that it seems to be a law.</p> <p>If my copse were some acres larger I should like nothing better than to make a good-sized clearing, laying out to the sun, and to plant it with these aromatic bushes and herbs. The main planting should be of Cistus and Rosemary and Lavender, and for the shadier edges the Myrtle-leaved Rhododendron, and <i>Ledum palustre</i>, and the three Bog-myrtles. Then again in the sun would be Hyssop and Catmint, and Lavender-cotton and Southernwood, with others of the scented Artemisias, and Sage and Marjoram. All the ground would be carpeted with Thyme and Basil and others of the dwarfer sweet-herbs. There would be no regular paths, but it would be so planted that in most parts one would have to brush up against the sweet bushes, and sometimes push through them, as one does on the thinner-clothed of the mountain slopes of southern Italy.</p> <p>Among the many wonders of the vegetable world <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_239" id="Page_239"></SPAN>[239]</span>are the flowers that hang their heads and seem to sleep in the daytime, and that awaken as the sun goes down, and live their waking life at night. And those that are most familiar in our gardens have powerful perfumes, except the Evening Primrose (<i>&OElig;nothera</i>), which has only a milder sweetness. It is vain to try and smell the night-given scent in the daytime; it is either withheld altogether, or some other smell, quite different, and not always pleasant, is there instead. I have tried hard in daytime to get a whiff of the night sweetness of <i>Nicotiana affinis</i>, but can only get hold of something that smells like a horse! Some of the best of the night-scents are those given by the Stocks and Rockets. They are sweet in the hand in the daytime, but the best of the sweet scent seems to be like a thin film on the surface. It does not do to smell them too vigorously, for, especially in Stocks and Wallflowers, there is a strong, rank, cabbage-like under-smell. But in the sweetness given off so freely in the summer evening there is none of this; then they only give their very best.</p> <p>But of all the family, the finest fragrance comes from the small annual Night-scented Stock (<i>Matthiola bicornis</i>), a plant that in daytime is almost ugly; for the leaves are of a dull-grey colour, and the flowers are small and also dull-coloured, and they are closed and droop and look unhappy. But when the sun has set the modest little plant seems to come to life; the grey foliage is almost beautiful in its harmonious relation to <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_240" id="Page_240"></SPAN>[240]</span>the half-light; the flowers stand up and expand, and in the early twilight show tender colouring of faint pink and lilac, and pour out upon the still night-air a lavish gift of sweetest fragrance; and the modest little plant that in strong sunlight looked unworthy of a place in the garden, now rises to its appointed rank and reigns supreme as its prime delight.</p> <hr style="width: 65%;" /><div class="pagenum">
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