We have always concentrated on scented plants in the gardens here: the citrus scent of witch hazel on cold but bright January days, the overpowering perfume of Daphnes in May, and the pepper-scented rose buds of Rose ‘Chapeau de Napoleon’ to name but a few.
When we choose which spring bulbs to import scent is a key consideration; certain narcissi (daffodils) are reminiscent of ‘tom cat pee’ – not quite the perfume you want to linger over the dining table!
But others have magical perfumes: the spicy scent of Narcissus ‘Sir Winston Churchill’ will stop you in your tracks as you walk by the pot in the courtyard; aptly named ‘Bridal Crown’ with its delicate, clotted cream rosettes; purest white Hyacinth ‘Aiolos’ fills an old wine box and greets us by the front door; a dainty pot of ‘Erlicheer’ graces the downstairs loo; and Narcissus ‘Geranium’ with its brightly coloured eye and 3-5 flowers per stem is a must, naturalising around the septic tank.
The tulips start to flower in late March, reaching a crescendo in early May, providing two months of colour in the garden, and vase after vase of cut flowers for the house. Shapes range from double peony flowers to single flowers opening to the size of dinner plates on sunny days, to the pure elegance of long-stemmed lily flowered beauties and the weird and wonderfully shaped parrots with their wavy edges. Some tulip varieties are divas commanding centre stage whilst others are happy to provide the supporting act.
Mid-May brings the second instalment of our Perfume Course run by International Perfumer Michele Riveroll. Michele has created scents for many well-known household products and we are very fortunate to have her opening up the olfactory world to us; as she told us: ‘there are fewer perfumers in the world (20 in total) than astronauts!’
After a morning rediscovering our sense of smell, and realising that taste is mostly determined by smell, we had a chance to sniff over fifty different scents and unanimously decided that sperm whale vomit, Ambergris, is one of the most delicious, reminiscent of the sea. Ambergris looks like a rock and washes up on beaches; in 2013 a dog in Morecambe, Lancashire wouldn’t leave one rock alone, netting £100, 000 for its lucky owner! Our second perfume course encompasses perfume and aromatherapy, and enables people to create and name their own personal fragrance to take away at the end of the day.
Rick Pickings from the garden >>
It makes me salivate when harvesting the first pea tips from the sugar snap peas, sown under cover. Wild garlic will be harvested down by the river or gathered on a nearby walk, and the young nettle tips with be picked with rubber gloves and then blanched briefly and frozen in ice cubes trays to use throughout the year in nettle tip and parmesan scones. Early summer always brings a welcome dilemma: should the first tips of asparagus be dipped in a soft-boiled duck egg or simply smothered in creamy hollandaise sauce?
Jobs in the garden >>
Sow, sow, sow: all that bare ground needs to be covered by crops, otherwise weeds will rule the roost. Don’t forget to succession sow, it is all too easy to sow all your seeds and then never think about it again until they are all eaten. A good rule of thumb for salads and quick crops, like turnips, is sow another row as soon as the first one can be seen coming up, this usually works out about 3 weeks apart. The other golden rule is water, in early morning or after dusk, during hot spells. The main limiting factor on crop yield is water but, if that need is met, the next limiting factor is nitrogen, so an application of pelleted chicken manure on the bare soil around leafy crops (do not let it touch the crop leaves) will guarantee a good harvest.