I’ve spent the last few days experimenting with the right place for these forced hyacinths, which went into pots last autumn. On the desk was too much. In the windowsill was too much. At the opposite end of the house near the back door is just about right. It’s not just that the scent is inescapable — it’s the fierce sweetness of it, like being force-fed a pint of syrup.
Topping my list for what I want from the garden is fragrance, so it’s odd that some of the most common flower scents repulse me. This summer I’ll be cutting every sweet pea in the garden again and handing them over the wall to my neighbour Hilary, for much the same reason — a choking sweetness that I cannot love. I don’t know many other people with a cottagey garden who will admit to hating the scent of sweet peas: if you’re one of them, do me a favour and speak up.
My top ten thrilling flower scents — and I don’t grow all of these — have to be daphne, rhododendron luteum, phlox, nicotiana, zalutiniskaya, lilies, pinks, monarda, lavender (English, not the resinous French), and above all, roses.
I shouldn’t throw roses into that mix because their scent, for me, is less a preference and more a requirement for healthy mental functioning. The roseless months of the year are dark ones, and I remember standing at the rose border by the top of the lovely Inveresk Lodge Garden last June, looking at a rugosa rose, the first on the bush, just opening. Do you ever have moments that become a lasting, living image? Before leaning into it I stopped and thought, right, here’s what I’ve been waiting these months for. The scent was — well, you know what it was. Perfection.
These hyacinths are becoming more tolerable now — my brain is beginning to ignore the shouting scent picked up by my nose — and they do point the way out of this Scottish winter towards spring, so they can stay. At a distance.
What are your thrilling garden scents? Are there flowers you can’t take, or feel you “should” like, but don’t?