June 6, 2010

The Scent of Spring Flowers

The sense of smell is an essential part of enjoying the pleasures of spring; from one bloom to another, we are transported by luscious aromas. The fragrances begin with scented daffodils and narcissus. The old fashioned flowers you see above were bequeathed to me by the previous owners, who had planted a large group of them under my leaning apple tree. They have a delightful scent, along with others I planted myself, each a variation on the theme of narcissus perfume.

After the common lilacs bloom, which waft a delightful fragrance throughout the yard, the lily of the valley begin. When I stepped out my back door, where they are spreading along the north wall under an American Cranberry, I was struck by their wonderful scent. A few sprigs in a vase perfumed the room.

These Lemon Lilies are the earliest daylilies to bloom, and the most fragrant. Their scent is rich and heavy, like extra sweet vanilla.

The last of the lilacs to bloom, the Korean lilac Miss Kim, is a beautiful shrub with flowers unlike those of most lilacs: tiny dark violet columns opening to four pale petals. They have a remarkable scent, different from other lilacs, but also heavenly and penetrating, flowing across the yard, filling the house from their vase.

And now roses are blooming; because of my northern location, I grow rugosas, which have a lovely smell. The peonies will soon bloom, with yet another beautiful scent. These perfumed riches make me wonder what it is about spring that causes flowers to be so fragrant? I can think of only one summer flower as intensely perfumed, and that is the oriental lily, unless I'm forgetting some. There are phlox that have a pleasant scent, although not very strong.

These wonderful fragrances also make me wish for a YouTube of smells, a way we could share aromas like a scratch and sniff in a magazine; I search for words to describe smells, but rarely succeed. So much of life is enhanced by the sense of smell; the scent of the woods after rain in spring is different from that in fall, and both heighten the visual and physical experience of walking woodland paths. A secret pleasure in growing tomatoes is the very particular smell of their leaves. When I visit a farm to photograph machinery, I wish I could share the rotting-sweet smell of the silage bunker, the thick not-unpleasant smell of the manure lagoon. Smells, scents, perfumes, odors, are an essential part of these worlds: garden, woods, farms, and certainly the city. Ah well, maybe someday....


  1. When we walked into the barn at Northwind Perennials, which has been used as a shop for architectural and garden antiques for a long time, you could still smell the barn/animal smell on a warm and sunny afternoon. I love getting a strong whiff driving through the country.

  2. Linda, it's nice to know that others enjoy the smells of farming. The lingering barn smell must have been a whiff of nostalgia for its agricultural working past.

  3. Such heavenly flowers you have in your garden Altoon!
    Lily of the valley I have never seen growing! I think this is definitely the flipside after all that snow and the freeze of winter - the marvelousness of spring and these blooms!
    Scents are so captivating... I am prompted to think of times when the sudden aroma of something memorable has stopped me in my tracks and I have been transported back to another time and place.

  4. Sophie, spring and its flowers and aromas are a great reward after winter. I agree that scents can trigger memories, like tastes, as with Proust's madeleines.