Wednesday, 17 June 2009

The Scents of Summer: Russian Olives and Other, Proustian Smells

To step outside this morning was to step into cloud of warm air and the smell of Russian olives in bloom. Too bad there’s no scratch-and-sniff feature on the Internet so far, because it would be a pleasure to share it.

In this climate the smells of growing things are particularly welcome, after the long season of cold. The first is the damp smell of newly-bared earth, followed by what I can only qualify as a “green” smell. Not one plant is yet in bloom, but there is a soft, sweet smell in the air.

By now we’ve passed the season of the heady scent of hyacinths (too strong a smell for me: I don’t plant them) as well as that of lilacs. Peonies are beginning to bloom, the mock orange will soon be out, and the Russian olive on the corner is covered with its small yellow flowers, disproportionately full of fragrance. In some places the tree or shrub is considered an invasive pest, but here the winters are so severe that their spread is kept in check, and we can enjoy the odd specimen that does survive.

Which leads me to think of other plants to grow for their smell:

Roses, of course; petunias; geraniums for the spicy scent of their leaves; clover and alfalfa in lawns for the delightful smell after they are cut; eucalyptus for the bracing scent of their leaves when walked upon on foggy days...

That last is a memory from my California childhood. I guess that, even though I wasn’t much interested in gardening then, the odors of growing things made their way into the deepest corner of my mind, like Proust’s madeleine.

Photo: University of Minnesota Extension

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