smell of spring



The delicate new cherry blossom is out now on the trees but it is not really doing anything for me. I prefer the clusters of rich flowers in magenta, white and luscious pink in vast eiderdowns of canopies in Ueno Park and along the river in Meguro, where my parents and I once turned a corner onto the sheer gaspworthy splendour of the scene, our eyes brimming with tears the beauty was so immediate; crowds all in photo-snapping jubilation, by the thousand.

That was several years ago. Today we were out in Kamakura on a grey humid day; the sea and the sakura drab, uninviting. But I was stopped in my tracks by the woozy, rich drowsy scent of these flowers, heavy with pollen, and an almost hops-like new fecundity that drew me in on the side of the road to smell them up close.

Were they linden/ tilleul/ lime blossom? A not dissimilar fragrance. But then I noticed the shape of the leaves and broke one off to smell it – ah yes, bay laurel. Bay blossoms. I didn’t know such a thing existed. But the uprush of feeling – that heart searing adrenaline of early spring – took me back to the pained ecstasy of my university days, when I was always escaping the headfuck of academia and everything else by breaking into the secret college gardens that you weren’t meant to go into; deeply inhaling the piercing air and sweet heartbreak of the almond blossom; hawthorn, and mock orange.

19 Comments

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19 responses to “smell of spring

  1. You describe it exactly! Been searching for it but not yet here, not much green yet, just a few flowering bulbs like crocus and daffodils, feels like we’re so much later than other temperate places around the world at the moment. So much rain, suddenly. Expecting a Spring explosion very soon. One magnolia showed a pink edge on one of hundreds of bare branched buds on a long very warm overcast walk yesterday. The rain will soften everything up. April 9th, now as immunized as I’ll ever be, venturing onto the long subway ride uptown to the Met. I have reserved a visit time slot, it’s been more than a year; so exciting.

  2. Tara C

    My wall of wisteria is in full bloom, absolutely gorgeous. Every year on April 1st I take a photo of myself with my dog in front of it, our spring ritual and record of passing time. On April 9th, we will drive to the Canadian border and hopefully cross without any Covid test snafus. On to the next chapter in my life.

    • Bon voyage. I hope the next chapter is excellent.

      I also adore the smell of wisteria. Something restrained but delirious in that purple. It comes out in May

      • Tara C

        Thank you! It smells heavenly. Being so far south, it is in full bloom by the end of March. Fortunately mine are not the scentless variety. This fall I’m planning to plant some rose bushes and a lilac. It should be very fragrant by next spring!

      • Gorgeous. I miss lilac – never see it in Japan. So blowsy and droop-heavy and romantic.

  3. Eureka

    In New England the crocuses and daffodils are just starting to dot some color into the landscape, but the adrenalin rush in seeing and smelling signs of spring is indeed eternal. In the meantime, though, I just had to run to my kitchen and smell my bay leaves, even if dried and brittle, just to have another sense of early spring. 🙂

    I, too, used to roam the gardens during University, and though many of my peers found it odd and me weird, I would walk for miles just to see and smell nature. It was during one of such explorations that I discovered wisteria for the first time, and it was love at first smell. I followed the fragrance to a massive twisted vine twining in on itself up a stone wall, and wisteria blooms spreading the length of the wall, out of reach but absolute euphoria to see and smell. “Delirious” is a very apt description of that first experience. The floral fragrance love of my life was cemented.

    Even after leaving the University, I made an annual pilgrimage every May thereafter to visit the heirloom wisteria. Unfortunately, one year upon arriving at the small plot, I found the wisteria gone, having perished in the name of “cleanliness.” I cried like a baby when I found it gone.

    Over the years, I have searched but never found its scent well-replicated by perfumery (though I have found some essential oil makers to have come close). Even worse, I find many wisteria nowadays with have little or no scent at all, perhaps bred out in favor of hardiness. I imagine when and if I make it to the afterlife, though, that wisteria of my youth will be there as the scent of heaven.

    • How lovely. Wisteria I agree has never been successfully replicated in perfume though I do like Diptyque Olene and Borsari Glicine.

      I am ENRAGED on your behalf at the ‘cleanliness’. Anathema to my soul.

    • This is a good guide to our local spring flora in case you are interested :

      THE KNEE AND LILIES

      • Eureka

        I will definitely have to track down the Diptyque and Borsari you mention. Thank you so very much for the recommendations!
        The virtual botanical tour is much appreciated as well, and I applaud your new-found abstinence from pilfering the local gardenias. I know it takes every ounce of willpower not to pluck! 🙂

  4. Robin

    The smell of spring. Great little piece, dear N., especially (of course):

    “But the uprush of feeling – that heart searing adrenaline of early spring – took me back to the pained ecstasy of my university days, when I was always escaping the headfuck of academia and everything else by breaking into the secret college gardens that you weren’t meant to go into; deeply inhaling the piercing air and sweet heartbreak of the almond blossom; hawthorn, and mock orange.”

    Three scents in my garden are doing it for me at the moment: the narcissus, the flowering plum (only one tree out of two: not the tree with the red skinned, red fleshed plums, but the one with the pink-blushed yellow skinned, yellow-fleshed plums. Heady. Perfumes the whole garden, even a hundred feet away) and the Daphne. Oh, the Daphne. You must have them in England. The particular ones with the darker plum-pink outsides, the pale pink tops. Really pungent citrus floral, not quite kumquat but closer to that than orange, lemon or lime, but mostly just its own thing. A vase of cuttings on Ric’s big table, and you can smell them outside on the deck just with a window open.

    • We have precisely the same Daphne in Japan : I don’t think I had ever smelled it in England before coming here. Kind of ugly beautiful for me : stunning on first scent – it grasps the air and is utterly head-turning, but there is also something about it I don’t like – it always reminds me of Lancôme’s dreaded ‘Miracle’; one of the most repulsive perfumes of all time.

      Still glad it exists through in its prim Kamakura florets

  5. Spring, glorious Spring!
    It has been unseasonably warm and weirdly dry here in Nepal this Winter and now early Spring. Usually, there are blustery squalls with hail and rain with the force of a firehose every afternoon in March. Not this year. The “khaki” dust so omnipresent in South Asia is horrific now. No frosts this Winter means it will be a bug-a-palooza of a year with loads of fleas, ticks, mosquitoes, and assorted tropical nasties. The only thing blooming in my garden is the huge bougainvillea in cerise pink tinged with terracotta. Hindu neighbors are celebrating Holi in a subdued fashion this year. Stealing blooms from my bougainvillea for poojas too 😉
    I love bay laurel. Spring sounds amazing in your current part of the world!

    • It is springing doolally – almost too much – like all the flowering trees have come out of lockdown.

      I hope you have ways of dealing with Bugsville or that rains – in suitable proportions – come and wash everything unwanted away.

      My favourites are still to come: a whole valley of azaleas. Like bougainvillea I am not entirely sole on the cerese, personally – but the smell is EXQUISITE. A true floral breeze – I have always wanted a perfume that smelled exactly like it; if I were a Greek god, that is how I would smell.

  6. Oh, the smell must be divine. There is not much blooming here at the moment, New Hampshire, but there are a few white flowers in the frond yard peeking out their white heads. Eventually the narcissus will start showing itself as well.
    I really want to plant more fragrant flowers here and there. We have some roses on the front of the kitchen ell, but the are not fragrant. Did not know that when we purchased them. The were called Proven Winners Knockout Roses, all show and no smell. How very american I say, all flashy with no scent. They are lacking soul. After realizing those were a mistake I planted a gorgeous David Austin rose bush in a gorgeous blush colour, and it smells gorgeous as well. Out in the back we have a very old rose bush, growing out of control, and those smell insanely lovely.
    I really want to plant some plum trees and cherry blossom, so I will have an earlly Spring burst of flowers.
    Please post more pictures of the beautiful flowers there, they make my heart sing.

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