Whilst all the senses are connected to memory, it is scent which can be the most powerful in recalling the past … an old rose reminiscent of granny’s garden, the faint scent of a familiar perfume, cloves baking in an apple pie.
For me, certain flowers recall the ten years I spent in South Africa. A stroll in the glasshouses of Dublin’s Botanic gardens when the Brunfelsia pauciflora is in flower is certain to draw me back to that time. Although not native to South Africa, it was widely grown there for its strong sweet smell; it was known as yesterday-today-and-tomorrow as its petals began as purple, then lilac and finally faded to white.
Mimosa, Acacia dealbata, an Australian native, is widely grown in Mediterranean climates and its delicious scent will always remind me of Spring holidays in southern France or Italy. Its flowers are frequently given to women in Italy, Russia and Georgia on International Women’s Day (March 8th). Here, it can often be found in florist shops in early Spring and fills the house with its sweet scent and cheerful Spring yellow. I can’t resist it.
Lavender is also an evocative plant which invariably delights – the scent of summer, bees humming along lavender hedges, holidays, sunshine on Provençal fields. I never fail to plant it in my gardens, always near a bench or by the house, its scent reminds me of happy times, holidays spent long ago with good friends near Aix-en-Provence.
It isn’t just places but people which are brought to mind when we catch the scent of something which stops us in our tracks. My late father bought me a flowering shrub for my first garden, a Philadelphus, or mock-orange, with its creamy white very fragrant flowers; its scent will forever be associated with him.
But why does scent create nostalgia? It seems that smells enter through the nose to the olfactory bulb, part of the limbic system, the emotional part of our brain; whereas words go into the thinking part of our brains. This explains why smells evoke emotional, nostalgic feelings rather than anything concrete.
I wonder is there a particular scent which transports you to another place or time? Flowers from a wedding bouquet? Something from a childhood garden? Or from a holiday? Would love to hear if there is …