Patrick O’Sullivan sets the scene for summer in Ireland
I remember last winter I saw a man lopping off branches from great old cypress trees by a house. The branches had grown too close to the gable and hence the need for the trimming. What struck me most of all though, was the incense of the trees, woody and green and winterish in the chill and bracing air.
It made me think that every season has scents of its own, signature scents you could say, that set it apart from the rest.
One of the loveliest scents of summer must surely be that of the woodbine, its fragrant yellow flowers so familiar at this time of year. How lovely it is to see them run rampant in the hedge, the long stems twisting and twining around other shrubs and trees. Or maybe in the woods, where they hang down in long strands from the boughs overhead, so that it seems that the flowers themselves are suspended in the air. The trumpet-shaped flowers are often flushed with red or purple, but it is the scent, the wonderful scent that is the most alluring of all.
The English naturalist and novelist, William Henry Hudson, was one who appreciated it for putting pen to paper in the year 1903, he wrote: ‘After sunset the fragrance of the honey suckle is almost too much; standing near the blossom-laden hedge, when there is no wind to dissipate the odour, there is a heaviness in it which makes it like some delicious honeyed liquor, which we are drinking in.”
Centuries earlier none other than Shakespeare himself was singing the praises of the ‘luscious woodbine’ in Act 2 of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Tennyson, meanwhile, wrote of standing at the garden gate where ‘the woodbine spices are wafted abroad and the musk of the rose is blown.’
Summer would not be summer, of course, without the scent of old roses in old country gardens, great and small. I remember the double-flowered moss roses, a favourite in the little cottage gardens of yesteryear. Their flowers were the softest, yet the richest, of pinks, their fragrance more and more wonderful still.
It was in a way the very essence of the summer day, especially in the morning time, when the petals were beaded with dew and the sun rose again in the eastern sky. I don’t know why, but moss roses always make me think of storybooks: once upon a time and happy ever after, for they have a kind of age-old loveliness about them that is still at the heart of summer itself. It was lovely to see them flourish in the gardens of the old country house nearby.