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Time Travelling

After two months of cold, dry weather it has rained. It's still cold for the time of year, but a few days of steady precipitation has enabled Spring to truly unfold in all her glory, at last. The woodlands are a breathtaking kaleidoscope of colour; from the acid green of the first beech leaves to the deep purple of the bluebells, dotted here and there with the alluring pink of campions (which I'd like to call 'fuschia pink', but that would be mixing my floral metaphors) and the creamy white of the may, which for once is flowering in its allotted month. But actually, it is not just the colour that is enrapturing me, it is the smell...

Yesterday, I lay in a patch of sunlight on the woodland floor and was immersed in fragrance; the earthiness of damp leaves and humus, the subtle perfume of the bluebells which is far from the cloying hyacinth, yet similar enough to make the family connection. But the most intense perfume was from the drifts of wild garlic which have now come into flower, their white stars competing with the bluebells for my 'Most Beautiful in the Woods' award.

What is it about fragrance that can immediately take you back in time? I'm on the school bus and we are chugging along the narrow Devon lanes, often having to reverse for a tractor or stop to disgorge another batch of bored teenagers. We lived about five miles from my school, but the bus took nearly an hour to get us home, detouring as it did through many other hamlets before getting to ours, right at the end of the journey. I always felt sick – I've never been a good traveller – and the older kids smoking at the back of the bus added to my nausea. But still, through the smoke and the chatter and the boredom, I was aware of this smell, just as we lumbered up the hill by Bradford Manor. Garlic.

At that time in my life, I didn't know about Wild Garlic. I'd never come across it in Oxfordshire, where we'd lived until the year before. In Oxfordshire in the late '70s the district council would spray the verges with pesticides and herbicides from early Spring onwards, and they would be like that cooking oil for the rest of Summer: 'crisp and dry'. I do remember some wildflowers lurking by the edges of cornfields – scarlet pimpernel and poppies, and occasionally a courageous drift of cow parsley, but when we moved to Devon, the councils didn't have enough money to spray and mow, and the hedgerows were spectacular, so verdant in fact, that they would almost meet in the middle of the narrow country lanes.

As I lay there in the woodlands, my whole mind and body had drifted back to my childhood, precipitated by my sense of smell. Isn't that incredible? What is it about the olfactory senses that allows us to time-travel like that? I haven't been up that lane in Bradford since I smelled wild garlic last year – it always takes me back to that exact place.

This year, I have left the orange tree in the greenhouse and it has benefitted from the extra warmth and protection, and come into profuse flower. As I open the greenhouse door in the mornings, I'm assailed but the smell of orange blossom, and I'm aware that perhaps I'm creating a new time travelling portal so that when I'm old and bent and go to visit a stately home, the moment I enter their Orangerie, I'm back in Stoke in the 2020s tending my own humble citrus grove.





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