Treasures of Aromatic Literature-GARDENS OF SWEET SCENT AND SENTIMENT By Alice Lounsberry
GARDENS OF SWEET SCENT AND SENTIMENT By Alice Lounsberry
AFTER many gardens have been considered, and their inhabitants have been located and scanned, it often seems that those in which the individuality of the owners had run riot were the ones to live longest in the memory. For the garden is not only a place in which to make things grow and to display the beautiful flowers of the earth, but a place that should accord with the various moods of its admirers. It should be a place in which to hold light banter, a place in which to laugh, and, besides, should have a hidden corner in which to weep. But above all, perhaps, it should be a place of sweet scent and sentiment. A garden without the fragrance of flowers would be deprived of one of its true rights. Fortunately, those near the sea are unusually redolent of sweet scent, the soft moisture of the atmosphere that surrounds them causing their fragrance to be more readily perceived than if the atmosphere were harsh and dry. It is still an open question to what extent the memory and the imagination of people are stirred by scents recurring at intervals through their existence. To many the perfume of flowers has more meaning than their outward beauty. In it they feel the spirit and the eternity of the flowers.
Undoubtedly, a particular fragrance will bring back quickly to the mind, and with much vividness, scenes and associations which have apparently been forgotten and which might otherwise lie dormant for a lifetime. The odors of many flowers are very distinctive. The perfume of the strawberry shrub is like none other; fraxinella, lavender, lilacs, and an infinite number of flowers are as well known by their fragrance as by their appearance. And although we smell them a hundred times a season, under many and dissimilar circumstances, there is perhaps only the one association that they will definitely recall. It is the one that has affected us deeply and moved our sentiment.
The first strawberry shrub that I ever saw was given to me when a small child by a red-cheeked boy just as I went into church with my grandmother. I slipped it into the palm of my hand under my glove, and throughout the service I kept my nose closely to the opening of the glove, smelling the flower. I was reproved again and again, but I continually reverted to my new and exquisite diversion; for, in those days, the time spent in church seemed longer than the rest of the whole week. Even now, each spring, when the first of these strange little flowers gives its scent to the air, I am for an instant transplanted, as it were, back to that stiff church pew, aching to be out in the open, and smelling the strawberry shrub in my glove.
Old English herb gardens were regarded by many as places of inherent sentiment, because, no doubt, the strong pungent odors of their herbs were known to possess a most subtle and potent influence. For while the majority of people are susceptible to the sweet odors of flowers, even those that are slight and evasive, there are others who become almost as much intoxicated with the aromatic fragrance of certain stems and leaves as the cat does with a whiff of catnip.
Thyme, about which much has been said by both ancient and modern writers, is reputed to have played strange tricks with the fancy and the imagination. I have even heard of its influence in the life of a man of this generation. According to the story, this man drove one day to the seat of a charitable brotherhood in the vicinity of his country home to make his annual gift. As no one was then in sight about the monastery, he went on into the garden, one filled with homely plants, mostly those of medicinal virtue and pungent scent. Amid these peaceful surroundings Brother Louie, a quaint figure in his brown habit, tended the flowers, his eye lit with the fire of pious enthusiasm.
The man of the world fulfilled his errand and was about to leave the garden when Brother Louie put into his hand a sprig of thyme, with its impressive, never-to-be-forgotten scent. It was carried away: one might have thought the incident closed. But the thyme had its work to do. It perfumed the pocket of the man who took it, and filled his mind with quiet, beautiful thoughts of Brother Louie working among the flowers, happier far than any king. At length its mission was accomplished. The man longed sincerely to wear the brown habit, and presented himself for admission to the brotherhood. It was a working order, however, and whether he felt aggrieved on being allotted the task of scrubbing the floors and assisting on a Monday with the family wash, in lieu of attending the garden with Brother Louie, is not known. When curiosity concerning him had somewhat abated, and when the populace had had its fill of peeping at him through the monastery windows, a more picturesque account of him was circulated. He was then described as sitting at the organ in the twilight sounding the call for vespers. There, at least, he may be left, a supposed captive of thyme, for he has not returned to his former life and his companions.