Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Sweeter Than Wine

This October we toured the rose gardens at Biltmore Estate in North Carolina. And as the country song says, “I had to stop and smell the roses along the way.” I took many photos of the beautiful roses; many heirloom and All-American winners.

And there in the middle of my tour, I reached for a red rose and my day became something more. It was a fragrance that can transport one to marvel. This beauty was the Hybrid Tea Rose “Chrysler Imperial”. It was seriously the high point of my garden walk.

In the modern hybrid flower world, plants have often been bred for larger flowers and more color choices. Rarely have they been bred for fragrance. The result has been many flowers no longer have their original if any fragrance.

Heirloom and open-pollinated flowers retain fragrance that past gardeners nurtured for their essence in cooking and for healing. Perhaps fragrance for the simple enjoyment was secondary in the early days, but, I’m sure it was enjoyed never-the-less.

Commercial marketing labs have discovered fragrance can sell. Think of the candle industry, a restaurant that fans their fresh baked bread smell out to the sidewalk, the hotel industry scenting their bedding with lavender to calm and relax, department stores pumping floral scents have increased sales, and research is currently finding certain scents may help diagnose and treat some diseases.

As far as roses, the Scented Geranium True Rose fragrance is said to improve recall and enhance the formation of memories. Perhaps for me the Chrysler Imperial was actually a recalled memory of some long forgotten event. As Louise Beebe Wilder wrote, “The gardens of my youth were fragrant gardens and it is their sweetness rather than their pattern or their furnishings that I now most clearly recall.”

Smell is one of the most powerful stimuli known. The olfactory receptors in the nose connect directly to the part of the brain responsible for memory and emotion. Our sense of smell affects 75% of our moods and emotions on a daily basis, and we are capable of detecting 10s of thousands of fragrances.

Given choices when choosing a plant for your garden, choose one that has scent. Next, put those scented plants where you will enjoy them. A single Oriental Casa Blanca Lily planted beside your porch or deck will perfume the evening air. Herbs such as rosemary, basil, or lemon balm planted beside a path will release oil and fragrance each time they are brushed.

Some plants wait until evening to release their perfumes; some will scent the entire garden and others need to be picked and placed in a vase for enjoyment. Think of a room with a vase of old fashioned peonies or lilacs.

Every flower that releases a wonderful fragrance, is handing you a gift. Heinrich Heine said, “Perfumes are the feelings of flowers” and I tend to agree.

You don’t need a $500 an ounce perfume when a bouquet of violets is just waiting to be picked in the back yard. Put away the sleeping aids and put the essence from lavender on your bed at night. Never be in such a hurry you don’t bend to smell a rose.

As a gardener, cut a few flowers and take them along on visits to others. Little kitchen glass flavoring bottles, old votive candle holders, or found containers washed and ready to hold flowers for your friends. Add bit of ribbon around the top. “A bit of fragrance clings to the hand that gives flowers.”

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