Saturday, February 3, 2007

Breathe Magazine - The Scents of Spring

Spring. It is a heady, klutzy time for me. I spend a good part of it tripping over curbs and walking into things because I am too busy looking up into the trees. Or distractedly trying to get a glimpse of someone’s front garden through an inviting gate. Or snapping my head around to figure out what scent I just walked past/under/through. 

Today’s post is about the scents of spring. Giving latin words and plant names to those scents that invoke so much – whether it be nostalgia or straight up, old-fashioned spring fever.

Fringe tree (Chionanthus virginicus). This one is a doozy and very underused in our landscapes, which is a shame. A native plant to Virginia, it is a smaller tree (around 15 – 20 feet high) and the white, puffed flowers arrive shortly after the dogwood show. Keep an eye out for it.

Korean spice viburnum (Viburnum carlesii).  I discovered this shrub during late April’s Historic Garden Week and was lucky enough to be at a house that had many of its plants labeled. Woot! I am planting a few of these on our land this year – along a path and outside our living room windows so the scent from the gorgeous pale pink and white clustered buds can hit me several times per day.

Linden (Tilia). I went to a lush dinner party last year and the owner of the house had clipped linden flowers filling bowls all around her house. I found any excuse to linger next to one whenever I had a chance. This tree has ancestors in Europe that go back centuries and its heart-shaped leaves and sweet-clean smelling flowers keep it on my wish list.

Kentucky Coffeetree (Gymnocladus dioica). Last spring, friends invited me over during a spring evening to spend time under their Kentucky Coffee tree. I felt as if this scent would be what one would smell during a Eudora Welty short story – very Southern gothic. George Washington had several planted at Mount Vernon. This one is actually a later bloomer – late May to early June. I am already working on securing a return invite from the neighbors for this year’s show.

Pepperbush (Clethra alnifolia).  I have watched bees, drunk and heavy, bobbing from one pepperbush flower to the next. I have also visited gardens where they have set benches in circles – surrounded by this shrub – so humans can sit and have their heads nod, drunk and heavy, as well. Some describe it as spicey or clove-like. I call it awesome and addictive. Not surprisingly, the spikey flowers attract hummingbirds, too. 

Sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum). This is an understated one. Shade-loving and delicate – its scent is more woodsy and green and actually gets stronger once the leaves are dried. A very loved, low-growing, spreading herb that is a good groundcover, it was used in times past for nosegays and foot-step activated deodorizers to mask the sewer and rotting meat smells of the Middle Ages. These days, its call to duty is less dire and grim as it is used to make things like May wine. 

Tracey Crehan Gerlach lives on five acres in Sugar Hollow, west of Charlottesville, Va., with her husband and daughter. Their organic gardens include edibles, perennials, natives, herbs and vegetables. She blogs about these gardens at Life in Sugar Hollow.

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