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Who are our guides to scents of roses, lilies, tomato plants and spring flowering trees? Who smells damp earthiness and floral fragrances every day? Of course, a gardener, and garden writers—should they choose—offer insights into wild smells within a garden’s tame confines.

The British garden designer, writer, and artist Gertrude Jekyll (1843-1932) wrote in “Wood and Garden”:

“How curiously scents of flowers and leaves fall into classes—often one comes upon related smells running into one another in not necessarily related plants. There is a kind of scent that I sometimes meet with, about clumps of Brambles, a little like the waft of a Fir wood; it occurs again (quite naturally) in the first taste of blackberry jam, and then turns up again in Sweet Sultan. It is allied to the smell of the dying Strawberry leaves.” (Gertrude Jekyll, 1899)

Not much has changed in a hundred years, I think. In the Pacific Northwest we reach between blackberry vines to pluck the glossy blackberries—a tactile experience of evading the blackberry’s prickly barbs and breathing scents of leaves parched on hot days. Or perhaps everything is moist from rain on the day the urge comes to pick blackberries, but always the experience is of leaning and reaching into the interior of the brambly vines to pluck and collect blackberries for jam or pie, or just eat them right then and there.

But what exactly is the “Sweet Sultan” to which Gertrude Jekyll refers? I would have guessed a plum but Sweet Sultan (Centaurea moschata) is a flower that, according to Jekyll, shares a subtleness of smell with “blackberry jam” and “dying strawberry leaves.”

My next post: what I have learned from this several month inquiry into the nature of writing about scents and smells. . .


Gertrude Jekyll. Wood and Garden, Notes and thoughts, practical and critical, of a working amateur (1899). The Project Gutenberg, Release Date: June 1, 2011 [EBook #36279] http://www.gutenberg.org/files/36279/36279-h/36279-h.htm