Scent, Sails, and Sleep Deprivation

What is your favourite time of year in the garden? What is your favourite plant? What is your favourite scent? I’m sure my answers to all these questions come as something of a disappointment to the garden visitors who pose them. They’re never definite, all change with the seasons.

An all-year-round favourite scent is that of washing, dried outdoors and best enjoyed in bed – fresh linen, straight off the line. Those of the garden change with the seasons, honeyed snowdrops in February, the bitter-sweet smell of the balsam poplars as they unfurl their leaves in May.

clove-scented pinks flank the thyme steps

In July the garden is filled with floral scents. The Asian cowslip (Primula florindae) wafts its warm vanilla perfume across the pond. Shetland thyme (Thymus serpyllum), when crushed under foot, exudes a spicy aroma that mingles with the clove pinks flanking the steps to the Sorbus walk.

 Then there are the old roses – old as opposed to modern. Unlike many modern shrub roses, all are scented.  Albas, with their handsome grey-green foliage and exuberant growth do particularly well in the Shetland climate, and there are three in my garden.

First, the great white rose, R. alba maxima, which has been in the garden for as long as I can remember. Planted far too close to its neighbours – an escallonia to the west, a flowering currant to the north, and a golden-leaved whitebeam (earmarked for moving home) to the south, – it used to just about hold its own. Supplied with copious amounts of horse manure for the past half decade or so, it now towers – in the most charming way possible.

Rosa alba maxima

Its close relative, Rosa alba ‘Celeste’ resides in the north-facing Kitchen Border and mingles fetchingly with its neighbour, bog-standard Weigela florida. For a description I can do no better to than to hand over to the great, late, Graham Stuart Thomas: “I know of no rose of such exquisite charm when unfurling its petals. The bland clarity of tone in the flowers is unparalleled among pink roses. They are semi-double, of a pure, soft uniform pink, shewing rich tones in the depths of the bud. As if this were not attraction enough the plant has leaves of a particular grey tint, the perfect foil to its floral colour, and the bush itself is strong and upstanding. The flowers are enhanced by a circlect of golden stamens.”

Rosa alba 'Celeste' bud

The blooms of Rosa alba ‘Maiden’s Blush’ have the same informality as those of R. alba maxima and are borne in great abundance. They are a soft, warm pink, fading to cream-pink, as the petals reflex, but always retain their (maiden’s) blush in the centre of the bloom.

I have already mentioned one of my bourbon roses, R. ‘Bourbon Queen’, which is trained as a short climber against a byre wall. Its large, semi-double flowers are produced in generous clusters, magenta on first opening, changing to a bluish pink. It is probably the most floriferous old rose in my garden, and dominates the scene for two or three weeks from early July onwards.

Sadly, our pristine island air is the queen’s undoing and disfigures her with blackspot every now and again. There’s nothing for it, but to prune her within an inch of her life, and mulch the ground below her feet with copious amounts of horse dung, topped up each spring. This usually keeps the fungus at bay for up to five years.

Rosa alba 'Celeste'

The other, R. ‘Madame Isaac Pereire’ is in a league of its own. Its double, quartered flowers are packed with petals of a glowing, intense rose-madder, ( I counted 92 in just one bloom the other day) and have a powerful scent. It needs rich feeding and a place in full sun to give its best.

And this is all I have time for this week. The Tall Ship race, combined with the wedding of a friend, and the ensuing sleep deprivation, has taken its toll. The weather has been nothing short of appalling up here these past few days – a return to winter with bitter-cold northerly winds and heavy rain at times –failed to dampen the enjoyment. Shetland gained an additional 7000 inhabitants over the weekend, the ships looked splendid, as did the sailors, and the wedding was one of the most magical events I’ve ever attended.

The ceremony took place on the site of the old Norse parliament – the first official one since 1600. The bride, wearing a grey silk parachute dress arrived like a galleon in full sail, and the bridal chamber, a yurt, beautifully furnished and decorated, was a like a setting from the Arabian nights.

Rosa 'Madame Isaac Pereire'

Ps. There is still no answer from husband regarding the timing of the arboreal retreat.

Tried to contact husband today, but doesn’t seem to be at home.


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2 Responses to Scent, Sails, and Sleep Deprivation

  1. Kate says:

    Oh, what magnificent roses! Wish I could grow good roses, but they’re not grat with me. One of my favourite garden scents has to be a rose on a warm evening…

    • admin says:

      dear kate,
      rich feeding is the secret, and nothing beats well-rotted horse manure. since we’ve acquired a shetland pony the roses have improved no end.

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