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



Snowdrops Keep Swirling In My Head

I love snowdrops. How could one not? Shy and sweet, they appear exactly when the heart is weary and needs a sign of hope that spring is imminent. Defying all odds, these diminutive beauties push through the earth quietly and seemingly overnight, they delight our eyes with their slender green blades and tiny, white bells. With the garden still in winter’s grip, these small bulbs remind me to be positive and brave – despite the challenges, go forth and conquer the day. Good things do come in small packages.

In the course of passing the winter perusing plant catalogs and garden periodicals, I’ve been coveting a myriad varieties of Galanthus. It’s astonishing how many there – double/multiple petaled, unique markings of green on the white petals, some lightly fragrant. Even as I wonder how one is supposed to lie prostrate on the still cold ground to observe these special traits, I covet them all for my garden. Never mind that nobody will notice such details, just knowing they are there seems to warrant their purchase. Perhaps this fall I will be planting a sizable quantity and variety of snowdrops. Fingers crossed – if anything, I’ve learned from these pretties that hope springs eternal.

In extended ( okay, obsessive ) readings on snowdrops, I learned a heartwarming bit of snowdrop history. During the Crimean War, which is clearly the antithesis to Brits’ Agincourt, the starving and freezing British soldiers were deeply demoralized and hopeless. Till the earth, winter-worn and thus far bare of growth but covered in piles of shot and other warfare debris came alive as early bulbs forced their way through. Masses of snowdrops, crocuses and hyacinths turned the soldiers’ morale around. They were symbols of hope and optimism. Some of them planted snowdrops around their tents and huts. Others, brought or sent home specimens of snowdrops which were planted and duly identified.

It was only later that people fully appreciated just how significant the ‘flower of consolation’ and ‘star of hope’ were to the soldiers. This led to greater quantities of bulbs being imported.

Sharing their discovery with family and friends, the soldiers directly influenced a bulb mania of sorts. The best way to preserve precious or rare plants after all, is to disperse them widely. Growers and collectors and of course the rest of us gardeners owe much to them. The dedication of those early growers is why so many early varieties of snowdrops have survived. So a big thank you to them as well.

I love this story. Not only does it once again illustrate the healing, uplifting power of flowers but it shows us a soft, very human side of tough warriors. Something to bear in mind ( and heart ) at all times.

Let the snowdrop reign.

Note: Get out of the cold and stop by the Mooney Center Gallery. Enjoy the art!

Looking forward to – 

Snowdrops



(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar