A Froth of Flowers

My mother was the sort of person who did a lot of things with insouciant ease and couldn’t understand why everyone else didn’t also. Her most inexplicable and unfair successes came in the garden. She could grow practically anything on roots no matter how persnickety a plant it might be. Her most annoying success (because it contrasted with practically everyone else’s failure) was with vines. Generally it takes two years to get a vine growing enthusiastically, let alone flowering. Mom could do it in one.

When I finally got around to trying to grow a vine, specifically clematis paniculata, it turned out not to be so easy. Should have paid attention, Mom’s record remained unbeaten, and though I did everything for that wretched plant, it sat in the capacious hole I’d dug for it and twiddled its thumbs- or vegetated, to be more precise – for two years.

In the meantime we sold the house and moved south.

My mother, driving past a couple of summers after the sale observed that the new owner must be an excellent gardener because she had trained a clematis all along the picket fence in front of the house.  It was that same clematis paniculata that wouldn’t get its stems in gear for me.  To hear Mom tell it, that identical vine was now romping along the fence throwing up a froth of small white flowers as it went.  But that was my vine, I wailed.  Mom was unimpressed and rather surprised. Why wouldn’t someone in their right senses have gotten that vine to flower the first year?  Yes, well, not all of us are plant whisperers like Mother.  The clematis was pretty, very pretty and smelled wonderful.

Now I see that same clematis variety everywhere in late summer and early fall, swarming over postboxes and throwing itself across telephone lines like a vegetable version of Douglas Fairbanks. I realize that my slow grower had very little to do with me or my mediocre gardening skills.  It’s just the way that vine rolls, it takes a while then whoosh, off it goes.

The relevant point here though is that the same irritating vine smells very good, and for once there is someone in the commercial perfume world who has bottled the smell.  Jo Malone’s Vanilla & Anise is just about exactly right.  The coincidence amuses me because I can’t think that the company actually modeled the scent on a living plant, but you can smell the resemblance for yourself. I’ve read reviews that peg Vanilla &Anise as Jo Malone’s version of the uber hit Lolita Lempicka.  The reviewers were probably correct, but I’ve never cared very much for LL which wears very heavily on me, and I do like the scent of Autumn Clematis a good deal, so let us guess that the resemblance to the plant’s perfume is pure accident.

If so, it is one of the prettiest accidents in the Jo Malone line. The vine itself in full flower attracts butterflies, and I wonder if this scent would as well?  But in any case worn alone, it is an almost ideal early Fall fragrance, and worn with something else to bring out its spice or floral notes, it could quickly become much more sophisticated. It’s pretty, very pretty indeed, and probably will throw up a froth of perfume on skin and – unlike the clematis- won’t take two years to do it.

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4 Responses to A Froth of Flowers

  1. Angie says:

    Your inspired description of the clematis throwing itself over telephone wires like a vegetable version of Douglas Fairbanks reminded me of this old saying about perennials (including perennial vines): first year they sleep, second year they creep, third year they leap. Your mother notwithstanding.

    • Blacknall Allen says:

      You know I’ve heard that old saying. Why didn’t it hold true for my mother? Secret manure tea? But in my own front garden -currently being shredded by Hurricane Sandy-it certainly does. Anything that can take two years to thrive, usually does. Portland on the other hand sounds like a fairyland for gardening. Have you ever tried to grow giant Delphineums or blue poppies?

  2. Angie says:

    Blue poppies, non non, giant delphiniums, oui oui! Some of the world’s top delphinium breeders did their magic right here in the Willamette Valley, after all. Most years I get a summer bloom and a smaller fall bloom. Thinking of you guys — I just looked for your town on a map — and Janet’s, too. Yoicks! If you’re reading this tonight, be safe.

    • Blacknall Allen says:

      Reading this right after the power came back on-quelle relief! We have nothing to complain of only a few roof tiles off.
      As to the giant delphineums, I do envy you. Tried and tried to grow the big blues but only the pinks obliged and the pint sized blues, which was not the same thing at all.

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