Senses - Smell
Sunshine after rain - June 2020
The ending of Lockdown arrived with a thunderstorm.
But as Mark Knopfler sings: There should be sunshine after rain. These things have always been the same. So why worry now. Here he is with Dire Straits.
I have to confess that the lifting of restrictions did not give me any great feeling of liberation. Instead it was rather as if the cage door had been opened and the birds were reluctant to venture out. Apprehension but not actual fear. So after the rain stopped and I tentatively went out into the garden it was uplifting to see that the lavender is coming into bloom. The sunshine now is even more atmospheric with the dark clouds behind and it lights up the flower spikes.
Aromatherapy recommends lavender oil for reducing stress and anxiety. Lavender certainly is helping me be calmer, and that is simply by being present in the garden. I crush a flower head and the aroma is pungent and transports me to places in the past – as a scent so often can. So why worry now.
In my garden I have at least a dozen different types of lavender: I think it makes for a more interesting display and provides a longer season of flowering. If you really only want to grow one type then for our local climate the Lavandula x intermedia varieties are the best for tolerating both drought and cold. ‘Grosso’ and ‘Arabian Nights’ are good shades of blue but there are also pink and white forms.
And please remember that lavender must NEVER be watered. If you do it will die very quickly, most probably from fungal disease.
And the good news is that the specialist lavender nursery near Assisi is able to go ahead with their annual Festa di Lavanda so you can visit them to find a lavender that is right for you. In case you don’t yet know this inspiring place, here is a video.
Scents of place - July 2017
A perfume or smell can transport us immediately and more quickly than almost anything else to a specific place and time.
Summer in Italy can be encapsulated in terms of the hot resin scent of pine trees; the uplifting perfume of lavender and the sultry exotic perfume of jasmine.
When the rain - finally - arrived at the end of June, I ventured outdoors and was engulfed by a wave of … liquorice. Helichrysum and Santolina plants near the door were responsible: they had heaved a great sigh of relief, their wet foliage releasing a pungent aroma.
I reckon I could find my way around the garden blindfold, navigating by the scents of different flowers and shrubs.
The garden can be scented all year round, not only in summer.
In spring we have roses of course, but also several scented shrubs: Philadelphus, Viburnum, Ginestra; even the humble Privet (Ligustrum vulgare) if allowed to bloom.
In autumn, Elaeagnus x ebbingei has tiny but intensely perfumed white flowers.
Even in the depths of winter the Winter Honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima) fills the air with scent, soon to be followed by Choisya and Viburnum.
Notice how many of these have white flowers.
And don’t forget bulbs. What nicer way to bring perfume to the terrace than a bowl of little species daffodils or a pot of flamboyant lilies.
Not all scents are happy though: there is a particular lily that has very special associations for me and its perfume brings me melancholy.
So, which perfume sums up Italy for you? Which scent transports you to your garden, your scent of place? Perhaps a favourite flower. Perhaps that special perfume that drifts on the air during warm summer evenings, unique to a garden in Umbria.
The photo at the top of this page shows flowers of Helichrysum italicum
Many of these articles first appeared in the Castiglione del Lago monthly newsletter “Qua e là” edited by Priscilla Worsley
All text and photographs © Yvonne Barton unless stated otherwise