Thursday, June 4, 2009

Lost and Found! / Kayıp Eşya Bölümü

Finally, a post on something that smells good!

Fragrance is one of the most important elements to me in the garden. I grow plants based on lots of merits - color, form (I don't much like double flowers), leaf form and habit, but I'm always a sucker for something that smells good!

In my Seattle garden, one of my favorite plants for fragrance was Night-Scented Stocks (Matthiola bicornis). I'd read of this plant several times and thought "that sounds interesting, I ought to try it some time," but for years never did. When I finally got around to it and the first few flowers opened and filled the garden with a sweet-coconutty fragrance, I decided I'd never be without it again. The only downside is that while the plant is not outright ugly, it's insubstantial and straggly, and the flowers droop during the day. But I really should get some more seed of it nontheless.

Several years ago I was visiting my friend Souzana on the island of Naxos in Greece, and we took a trip up to the northern coast. On a bank by the sea there was a huge stand of a Matthiola with substantial light purple flowers atop robust plants with heavily wavy gray leaves. There was not even a trace of scent, but I suspected they might be night fragrant, and asked a local girl who was collecting them if they smelled at night. "Nope" she said. I didn't believe her, so I collected as many of the matured seed pods as I could find, and we also got a boquet of the flowers for good measure.

As soon as it got dark, they poured out a sweet, candy-like fragrance that literally filled the room. I got to work splitting the long seed pods and scraping the seed out onto a sheet of paper, collecting the seeds in a shot glass. It was slow work and I was the last to bed.

In the morning I got up and went into the kitchen. The shot glass was gone. Souzana had been tidying up and unaware of the treasure the glass held, she had dumped the seeds out. Aaaaaaaarrgh! There was no chance of going up and collecting more; we didn't have a car and there was no public transport.

However there was some good news - Souzana had not dumped the seeds into the garbage, but into the container where she put all the peels, cores and old leaves destined for her compost pile.

The next spring, the seeds came up all over her vegetable garden, and she recognized them and let several plants grow, then sent me seed from those. I suspect that they may have hybridized a bit with other stocks there, but they have the same night-only fragrance and grow beautifully in Istanbul. Though they don't fill the air quite like the homely little night stocks did, the remain an important component in the general fragrance of my evening garden.


Sarah said...

I have a very small front yard and almost all of it is filled with aromatic herbs. I got carried away and even added a curry plant whose scent miggles strangely with the jasmine and lemon verbena.

Sazji said...

Must smell great during hot afternoons...I think the thing that affects me most in the Aegean is the smell on the air, all the wild aromatics. You should grow a little nicotiana out there too. :)

Cheryl said...

My grandmother grew night-scented stocks along the path in her small garden in S. Wales. I have failed with them here in AR. I think they were called (or she dubbed them) Dolly Mixtures after the pastel-coloured small candies we used to buy. Some of my strongest memories from childhood are of the scents, the stocks and chrysanthemums in her garden, the lavender, Nicotiana and Old Man ( Artemisia abrotanum in our garden. Edward Thomas has a lovely poem about that plant).
Your pictures are wonderful and I enjoy the blog a lot. Thanks.