23 June 2013

Scents and senses

Wonderful though the web may be, it can bring you only visual (photos, videos and sometimes words) and occasionally auditory accounts of goings-on in the garden and the wider world. My love of the garden and my enjoyment of the wider natural world are of course bound up in my visual sense - those of you who've been reading the blog for a while will have seen a hint of that--subtle I know--in the few photos and drawings that show up here. 

Sounds play an important part too: blackbird song in the spring, robins mid-winter, the always sudden call of the wren, the unexpected 'plop' of a frog diving into the tiny pond, the whisper or rustle of winds and breezes, riffling through grasses and rippling the Acers. And that's just in the garden.

But gardens and 'nature' (oh hang on, does anyone remember the 'Nature Table' in the corner of their primary school classroom? I've only thought about that just now. I loved that corner!) are about our other senses too ... and at this time of the year, scent comes into its own. In the garden, our honeysuckle is out at last and it drenches the bench in scent each evening with a powerful perfume that lingers on until morning. In the wonderful weather we've been having of late (until today), we've been eating in the garden morning and evening, and the breakfast spot on these long, long days is right beside the pool. Early morning sun warms the corner and brings out the scent of a tiny alpine Dianthus that I have there. The surrounding walls trap the fragrance and keep it close. I have a couple of roses too, but truly, they deserve a better gardener than me: at the moment I can't get close enough to them to inhale their scent--a mini-wilderness of a  Chaenomeles tangle, fronted by a mass of Inula hookeri, wild (mildew-ridden) honeysuckle winding through, and a collapsing very old trellis that's now at a 10 degree angle from the vertical, all conspire to hide the roses. They'll have to fend for themselves until autumn, when that whole area will have to be sternly reconsidered.

And then there's taste.

This last week I made the first of our elderflower cordial: easy-peasy. Elderflowers, lemons, sugar and water and hey presto - summer airiness delighting our tastebuds. We gather the elderflowers from a nearby hedgerow that lines one side of some playing fields (away from traffic and other nasties). In my own patch, I had to cut back masses of perennial rocket that was swamping the chives, and so one night we had rocket pesto on pasta for our dinner: rocket, garlic, olive oil, lemon, a few capers, parmesan, and roasted almond and sunflower seeds (they're what I had in the cupboard, I don't really care for pine nuts, which all recipes seem to call for). Home-made pesto eaten in the evening sunshine in the garden ... it was like we lived somewhere altogether more southern ...

What about touch? 'Lamb's lugs' (Stachys) of course, and Nasella teniussima (which was Stipa tenuissima until about five minutes ago; no doubt it'll be called something else by the time you read this); I've both of these in the garden and I don't think anyone can walk by either of them without touching them. Well alright, I can't. And this week in the wider world, a walk on nearby Ticknock brought us the feathery fluffy delights of bog cotton - both types: Eriophorum vaginatum and E. angustifolium. I don't remember seeing bog cotton as bountiful as it is this year: the brown upland heath was silvered in the sunlight with drifts and drifts of it. Another walker we met agreed - she'd never seen it looking so good. The same is true for so many plants this year: over on the Guardian Gardens FB group, gardeners have been marvelling at the lushness of growth in all our gardens. And in the wild, it's not only the bog cotton that's doing so well, buttercups are so astonishing in their vigour and numbers that they've making it onto radio and into print (on national radio and our paper of record -- you have to love that).

No, I didn't miss Summer Solstice... duly noted and toasted! And for those who have a clear sky tonight - it's a full moon at its perigee: a super moon, no less, the nearest and brightest that we can see it. Have a look!

A tiny Dianthus brings a scent of cloves to the morning 

Breakfast-time ...

Elderflower on a river bank

Soon-to-be elderflower cordial

When austerity gets to be too much, head for the hills
Eriophorum, Bog cotton (Ceannbhán) silvers the heath
Eriophorum angustifolium on Ticknock

A first sketch of Eriophorum vaginatum, hard to get the fluffiness of the seed head! 
Have a good week all.


  1. Erica, this is wonderful and funny thing - just as I was reading about the 'nature table' I smiled because just an hour ago a friend who teaches in an ASD unit in her primary school left with a little gift from me for her children's nature table, guess what, yes - bog cotton collected on my afternoon walk - all soft and fluffy and wispy and gorgeous!! Fab blog Erica, thank you!

  2. Anonymous24 June, 2013


    Did you try deliberately pencil 'smudging' (usually something to try avoiding) in order to represent the bog cotton's fluffiness? S

  3. Mary, what a lovely coincidence! Great to hear Nature Tables are still on the go, and how nice of you to gather something for your friend's one.
    S, thanks for the suggestion, I shall try it out ... I think I also need to go more gently with the pencil on the page. It was only a 0.35 but still it looks a bit heavy handed for the fluffy bits.