Scent and memory

Posted: Friday 15 June 2012
by Kate Bradbury

Walking around the RHS Plant Marquee at Gardeners' World Live this week brought back many childhood memories.

Sweet pea flower

During an episode of Springwatch this week, Chris Packham and Martin Hughes-Games went looking for snakes. When Chris picked up a grass snake it emitted a pungent liquid (which grass snakes tend to do when threatened). Chris was transported 40 years back to his childhood and his mum telling him to wash the stench off his hands (he merely pretended to so he could spend the evening in his room, smelling of snake).

It’s the scent of flowers that tends to transport me back to my childhood. Walking around the RHS Plant Marquee at Gardeners' World Live this week brought back many childhood memories. As soon as I walked in I was hit by the scent of roses at the David Austin stand, which took me back to the rose garden at my Aunty Elsie’s. Then I found a stand of lupins. Lupins aren’t particularly known for their scent, but their mild, fresh, slightly peppery fragrance reminds me of smelling them as a child, when they were taller than I was. I wish I could grow lupins. Sadly, my frogs and snails seem to have struck a deal – there’s not a slug in sight but the snails have free rein and, of course, they love lupins as much as I do.

Scent doesn’t just evoke the memory of smelling plants; the Highdown Nursery stand of herbs reminded me of rubbing lemon balm onto my wrists and having a conversation with my granny about ‘perfume’. Sweet peas, which were grown every year in the garden of my childhood home, remind me of childhood in general.

I never got around to growing any sweet peas this year and I miss them. Not just because I love the flowers, but something deeper than that; some weird sense of belonging and rootedness, associated with their scent.

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Talkback: Scent and memory
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happymarion 15/06/2012 at 16:17

The scent of dock leaves take me back to my childhood and trying to alleviate the sting from nettles. Kate, But A gardenia always reminds of how my late husband went into a flower shop in Bristol centre on our forst date and came out with one made into a buttonhole and pinned it on me. I kept it on my desk at work for weeks and the smell was there when it was quite wilted.

gardengirl6 16/06/2012 at 10:41

Sounds as if your husband was a very romantic man, Happy Marion.

I always love the scent of a big old-fashioned phlox flower.    Difficult to find these days, as they grow too many dwarf varieties.    I used to pick the individual florets off the flower-head, and suck out what I thought, as a child, was nectar.   Ah, childhood memories!


donutsmrs 16/06/2012 at 18:25

Freesias are just an unbelievable scent and remind me of my mum. I have them growing in my greenhouse in a pot and the scent just fills the greenhouse. Sweetpeas always makes me think of my dad, he always had them growing and my mum had vases full of them indoors. Wonderful.

Kate Bradbury 20/06/2012 at 14:33

Thanks for sharing your scent memories too, ladies