Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Scent Memories

I have written before on the way scent conjures powerful memories. Today I experienced that phenomenon again. Although it's happened to me many times before, I still find it amazing.

There are many plants I don't even try to grow at Halfway Up A Hill. They are way too attractive to slugs, and believe me, the slugs and snails here are voracious. My usual gardening strategy for ornamentals is to grow the things slugs find unpalatable, so that I only have to concentrate my slug-control measures in the veggie patch. Thus my cottage garden is filled with hardy geraniums, penstemons, lady's mantle, aquilegia, foxgloves, astrantia, woody herbs and roses, and I'm quite cautious about wasting my time and money trying anything else.

But this year, a friend gifted me with some clumps of mixed seedlings that had self-seeded in her polytunnel. An eclectic mix of dill, cornflowers, tomatoes, nasturtiums, morning glories and French marigolds. I planted them with minimal protection, with a 'They'll either thrive or not' attitude. The dill was the first casualty, succumbing to the sluggy hordes almost overnight. The tomatoes were probably passed on a bit too late to produce much of a crop, but to my amazement they haven't succumbed to blight yet either, so if we're lucky enough to get an Indian summer they may come up trumps. The nasturtiums, cornflowers and morning glories are romping away. I haven't grown either of the latter two before but all three are now added to my list of slug-proof plants worth growing again. The French marigolds - which from past experience I fully expected to be razed to the ground in short order - actually seemed to be doing OK, and even when the slugs tracked them down, a brief slug-control patrol in the evening seemed to be keeping things within acceptable limits. The bright orange of their flowers looked wonderful with the brilliant scarlet nasturtiums and the glorious blues of the cornflowers and morning glories. So far so good.

Unfortunately the slugs stepped up their attack on the marigolds and today I finally had to admit defeat and pull out the last remaining marigolds after their main stems were severed overnight. I salvaged as many flowers as possible and brought them back to put in a jar of water. At least they will brighten the kitchen windowsill for a few more days.

I stripped the leaves from the stems, and the scent released by the crushed foliage brought memories flooding back. At the age of twelve I was given a small patch of ground outside my bedroom window as my first garden. At a summer fete in the village I bought a tray of French marigolds - I think they were actually the first flowers I planted there. Suddenly I was twelve again, digging over the soil in that small patch, earthy hands carefully tending the marigolds, a chamomile plant, some mint, and the 'Wargraves Pink' hardy geranium, bought at the same village fete and from which I still have a cutting to this day growing against the wall of the workshop.

I hadn't thought of that garden for a very long time, but the smell of marigold leaves brought it all back so clearly. How amazing that our senses can do this for us. Our bodies and brains are such wonderful things!

P.S. I know the photo isn't actually a French marigold, it was the closest I could find!


Compostwoman said...

I find scent can transport me back in an instant - a whiff of oatmeal and I am in the stable with my first pony, making feed up.

I hate the smell of tagetes for reasons I won't go into here - but english marigolds - ah a scent which makes me feel very happy :-)

willow said...

Scent is amazing at bringing back memories. Marigolds were some of the first seeds I was given to plant my own little patch of garden when I was very young so their scent is embedded deep in my memory. Also from that time I like the smell of Herb Robert though I know that is one that many people dislike intensely.
Finally, the smell of damp bracken and/or pine woods takes me right back to holidays in North Wales. Now I live near to woods and bracken but still when I walk there I feel I'm on a little holiday. We are off to Wales in a couple of days so the scent/holiday association will be reinforced.
Interesting how reading your post brought back the memory of the different scents.

laoi gaul~williams said...

we had terrible slug problems until suddenly it stopped...the reason we found one night when flynt was spooked in the garden...a nice plump hedgehog walking down our path!

i get scent memories but oddly its always of the small chalet in devon we used to stay in every year when i was young!

Leanne said...

you can grow foxgloves? something ate mine! ( sigh!)

Leanne x