Stories In Scent

“Smell is a potent wizard that transports us across a thousand miles and all the years we have lived.” – Helen Keller ‘The World I live In’



It has occurred to me that, the seasons are embodied in fragrances. Hyacinths in early spring awaken my senses and then, the soft notes of narcissus take over. Violas, lily-of-the-valley and wisteria span the season. The peonies, lavender and roses all rich in perfume lead us into summer when the heady scent of lilies step in. Not unique to spring but most obvious at this time is the much loved odor of petrichor – that smell after the rain. A collaborative effort of bacteria, soil, plants and rain, it is a smell that evokes such comfort in its familiarity.

Summer is a bouquet of smells. Sweet strawberries, honeysuckle, gardenia, heliotrope, ripening peaches are but a few. Warmed by the midday sun, the aromas of mint, basil, rosemary, thyme and other herbs rise: a reminder of meals past, present and future. The clove scented phlox and luminous brugamansia infuse the evenings with provocative perfumes. So many different aromatics and yet , we can distinguish each one clearly. Every single one of them represents a memory, Some more significant than the rest.

Moving into autumn, the soil receives the fallen leaves and we inhale the redolence of a season known for endings. Yet really, growth may have ceased but next years abundance is already in the works. Seeds and bulbs are ensconced in cozy, earthy spaces that will provide safety and sustenance till the time is right to grow again. Pumpkin is the essence of this season. It weaves its way into the foods, drinks and festivities of fall. Pumpkin spice is rather exclusive. I know of no other fruit or vegetable with its own personal blend of spices. Still, I’m partial to the quince. A single fruit can perfume the entire house. Sublime. It is mushroom season too. Earth offering up treasures wearing her own personal perfume.

As winter arrives, we move indoors where the air is infused with the smells of paperwhites and wood fires. Mulled apple cider and hot cocoa stirred with peppermint. Soon, the jasmine in the greenhouse will be studded in buds and it’ll be brought into the house so its distinctively tropical fragrance can penetrate my consciousness and remind me of my childhood in India.

Also in the greenhouse, the orange blossoms unfurl their white petals releasing their perfume carrying tales from the ages. It is pure heaven to sit a while, breathing deeply, dreaming of warmer, light filled days. Outside, the witch hazel puts out flowers that smell fresh and crisp. Like an old-fashioned bathhouse or laundry. Cleansing, reviving.

Smell is history. Powerful, emotional and instructive. All courtesy of Nature. Hallelujah.

Note: As the holidays and the season of giving approach, please consider gifts from the Printed Garden Collection. I am a small business and more importantly, 50% of the profits is donated to the ACLU ( American Civil Liberties Union). Thank you.

This has been a spectacular fall. As you will see, I have been inspired by the colors. Enjoy these images –

‘Autumn Reflections’ watercolor

‘Autumn – The Other Spring’. Watercolor

‘Autumn Gold’. Watercolor

(c) 2020 Shobha Vanchiswar



Romancing The Garden

Gardeners are romantic. I have come to realize and accept this. In making anything beautiful, it pretty much goes without saying (but I’m saying) that one must also be romantic. You aren’t convinced? Hmmm. Let me tell you how I’ve come to realize my own idealistic, sentimental nature in action in the garden. You tell me if you’ve never been similarly inclined.

I’ll start with the very poster child of romance. The rose. I love them. I have included several in my garden – all in shades of pink, profuse and preferably perfumed. The very display of roses in bloom brings to the forefront matters of the heart. You absolutely cannot see a rose and not think of love and romance. Am I right?

When I chose to place two arches and plant roses to scramble up them, I envisioned something very traditional. The arch one must go through to reach the front door was to invite and disarm the visitor. It puts one in good cheer. The subtle fragrance sends an additional message of welcome. The three different clematis weaving through this rose takes the whole to a higher level. Pure romance.

The second arch which is a gateway to the gardens in the back, has a different rose. Brighter in its rosy hue and with a stronger perfume. It makes its presence felt long before you get near it. A temptation to coax the curious to come forth.

A shrub rose I planted on the side path in early spring was chosen for its prettiness, hardiness and its scent. The whole idea being that its fragrance will waft into the house through the studio windows just above and assault my senses in the nicest possible way as I paint. I’d like to think my work can only be made better under such influences.

In truth, one can smell the roses in all the rooms on that side of the house. It makes me pause, inhale deeply and appreciate the aroma. Life feels good. Similarly, I position the pots of citrus, jasmine and gardenia on the side terrace so the night air is redolent with their strong aromas – hopefully sweetening our dreams and slumber.

In the herb garden, I included plants mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays. Lovage, rue, hyssop, comfrey, foxgloves and such. Apart from the lovage which pairs well with fish, the others merely look pretty and remind me of earlier times. Hyssop while purported to soothe sore throats, was popularly used as a spiritual bath. The hyssop bath is usually considered to be a personal ritual to remove sin and negativity in life. It has a Biblical significance. Rue means disdain or regret. Comfrey too had a role in early medicine as a poultice to treat joint pains. All so quaint and romantic right?

Even a feature like the ‘meadow’ has an element of idealism and romance. It is a place for congeniality between the native flora and fauna. Where butterflies, birds and bees pollinate and populate my corner of paradise. Life supporting life, all creatures living together in peace and all is well with the world. What a concept!

The espalier of 27 apple and 5 pear trees hark back to a time when all of this neighborhood was full of apple orchards. I like to think I’ve in some way restored something precious to this place.

The pergola in the back terrace was designed so the wisteria would grow over its top, generously providing shade under which we can gather to break bread and sip wine with friends and family as often as possible. And we do. Idyllic escapes in a world gone mad.

And so it goes. I see how in creating this garden, I have subconsciously let my inner romantic guide me. It is about beauty, history, literature, harmony, the sacred and most of all, love.

Now, how about you?

Note: Enjoy these romantic images!

View from the upstairs window boxes
Hyssop
Gardenia
Citrus

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar

It’s Open Season!

My garden’s Open Day is this Saturday, May 18. I’m hard at work primping and propping the garden to get it looking it’s best for you. So, cancel everything else and come on over. I’d love to see you here!

I was in Evanston, Illinois this past weekend and even though part of that time it was cold and wet, I was struck by how much horticultural effort is put into making the heart of the city look attractive. Tulips waved madly in bright colors on traffic islands, pocket parks and around trees along the streets. So cheery and seasonal. And very easy to do. I’m eager to see what the next plantings of annuals will be.

But beyond the show of annuals, I observed that there is a thoughtful approach to infusing seasonal color and fragrance in the landscape through the use of perennials. A small park dividing a busy road, is bordered with hedges of viburnum. I smelled the park before I noticed it! The viburnums were in full bloom and the fragrance wafted far and wide. Pure heaven. As though reminding pedestrians to pause a moment and refresh the spirit – be present. What a lovely idea. Flower beds within the park abounded in tulips but there were many perennials emerging through. Three benches and a single sculpture completed this perfect oasis.

Swathes of Virginia bluebells carpeted several other green spaces for the public to enjoy and under many hedges I noticed abundant lily-of-the-valley leaves unfurling in readiness for the sweet bells of white to perfume the days ahead – subliminally cheering the outlooks of passers-by.

I had hoped to visit Millennial Park in Chicago and take in the plantings but my schedule did not permit it. Instead, I got to experience the glorious efforts of a much smaller city that could match its big neighbor handily. My well is full.

Note : Enjoy some images of plantings in Evanston. I look forward to seeing you in my garden this Saturday!

Depending on which device you are reading this, some images appear on their side. I have no idea how to fix it. My apologies! Also, the pocket park appears expansive in the photos – it isn’t in reality!

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar