As rain began to wash across the Garden this morning, the smell of freshly wetted pavement snapped me back in time…back to being a kid, enjoying the simple pleasure of playing in the rain. This nostalgic moment set me to pondering how central scent is to the experience here – or at any garden for that matter. So, when taking photos for this update, I sought out fragrant subjects; all the while considering how to share their evocative scents with everyone at home. While the title of my post is obviously silly, the intention is genuine. In the image descriptions that follow, I’ll do my best to recreate scents for a virtual fragrance tour. Off we go …
First let’s head to Southern Africa. Currently, some of my favorite geophytes – those in the genus Ferraria – are in flower. Every year, I eagerly await their funky flowers and fabulous scent. The mottled brown blooms waft pure vanilla extract…in a blind sniff test, I challenge you to distinguish flower from flavoring!
Moving uphill, a more diminutive geophyte, Lapeirousia pyramidalis, is concluding its ephemeral show. I would have missed it all were it not for my colleague, Ethan Fenner, pointing it out (thanks, Ethan!). The tiny, lavender inflorescence produces a delightful and familiar scent. It takes a moment to place it then, aha!, another (rare) childhood pleasure: Froot Loops cereal.
Continuing on to Asia, we come upon a large Pittosporum at the edge of the central lawn. It is an undetermined species from Sichuan, China, covered with rather nondescript flowers. The scent, however, is anything but. It fills the air with rich, sweet fragrance, much like that of winter daphne (Daphne odora). While the two plants are unrelated, their scents are remarkably similar. I’d describe it as a more honeyed version of orange blossom.
Across the lawn in the Herb Garden, a beautiful clump of Angelica archangelica is in full flower. In this case, the foliage is more fragrant than the bloom and when lightly crushed the leaves emit a pleasantly peppery, green scent with a hint of carrot (which, incidentally, is a member of the same family, the Apiaceae).
In nearby Australasia, another plant with fragrant foliage, Pelargonium drummondii, is speckled with bright pink flowers. The leaves are delightfully fuzzy and harbor oils with a powerful, resinous scent topped with a citrus tang. Poke your nose in again and you may detect an elusive, fruity undercurrent – green apple? passion fruit?
Meandering over to the Mexico/Central America Section we come to a point at which the path is bookended by Ternstroemia tepezapote. This handsome shrub sports pendant cream colored buds which mature to blush pink. At this stage a distinctive scent is produced, musky and somewhat “animal” in nature. Have you ever visited the fruit bat enclosure at the Oakland Zoo? If so, imagine that stinky sweetness. Otherwise, barnyard manure – tangled with a tropical sweetness – is a decent proxy. It sounds unpleasant but I love this plant and it’s odd, jungle-y aroma.
Ending on a truly sweet note we enter the greenhouse for two lovely orchids: Jumellea arachnantha and Maxillaria tenuifolia. The Jumellea is in the midst of churning out starry white flowers. As with most fragrant plants, the intensity of scent fluctuates throughout the day; at its peak, the lush perfume has a strong jasmine note with a lilt of baby powder.
Saving a fun surprise for last, the little maroon blooms on the Maxillaria have a potent and unexpected fragrance: coconut. It is known in the trade as “coconut pie orchid” for good reason. After a few more sniffs, I mentally commit to some extra baking this week. Anyone have a good coconut cream pie recipe?
Leaving the greenhouse, I’m engulfed by drizzle and the myriad vegetal, earthy scents that fill the air. I snap a few rainy-day Garden views to send your way. To accompany these images, I hope you’ll conjure the spring scents that you’re experiencing in your own yards and neighborhoods.
Breathe deep and enjoy!