Teme Valley Musings, June 2021

by Stephanie Mocroft

June is the month when two of my favourite flower scents can be enjoyed. One is a garden plant, the other a wildflower. The garden plant is Philadelphus, also known as “mock-orange”, which I have grown in my garden since first encountering it years ago in the grounds of Powys Castle. I went there on a warm sunny day and as I descended a slight slope a beautiful perfume reached me before I could see where it came from. I can’t recall whether the shrub was labelled or whether I enquired from a gardener, but it was called Philadelphus “Belle Etoile”. I planted one. The flowers are short-lived, but the scent so good that it really doesn’t matter.

A couple of years ago I decided to plant another and chose a variety called “Starbright”. The nursery catalogue assured me that it was a new type which would flower a month later than the others. Looking to extend the season of lovely perfume, I ordered one, only to see it come into flower a few days before “Belle Etoile”, a lesson not to believe everything I read in catalogues. Genuine orange blossom smells divine too, and I have been lucky to enjoy it in sunnier climes where it blooms rather incongruously whilst the oranges are still on the plant. Sadly it is too cold forto grow it here.

The other June scent is more noticeable in the evenings than in the daytime because it is designed to attract late-flying pollinators. It is the familiar honeysuckle, which flowers for much longer than the cultivated mock orange and although it is a woodland climber is often to be found in hedges. I usually pick some from my hedge to bring into the house. Often called woodbine it inspired this description from 1562. “Oh, how sweet and pleasant is Woodbine, in woods and arbours, after a tender, soft rain; and how friendly do this herb, if I may so name it, embrace the bodies, arms and branches of trees, with his long winding stalks, and tender leaves, opening or spreading forth his sweet lilies, like ladies fingers, among the thorns or bushes”.

Cultivated forms of honeysuckle are popular too, although I’m sure I’ve read somewhere that one of the most scented forms available was spotted by a plantsman growing wild in a Herefordshire hedge. I’ve ordered a dwarf form to try in a pot this year, what’s the betting it will turn out to be ten foot tall?

Other wildflowers don’t seem to smell so strongly. Bluebells en masse are lovely but the day has to be warm for the scent to lift up and be noticeable. My neighbour loves the scent of sweet violets that grow in our lane, but even on hands and knees I never seem to be able to detect it. Our native daphne, the spurge laurel that grows in Teme valley woods, is pleasant, but rather faint. The dog rose, another flower for June, has a lovely smell but you have to reach right up to appreciate it. The beauty of honeysuckle is that the scent is sweet and strong and wafts in the air at head height. It arrests your attention; you don’t need to go looking for it.