Car troubles yesterday had me walking home from the garage. I didn’t regret this at all, as I’d spotted one or two Gladiolus tristis in the grass on the side of the road from the car, and I wanted a closer look.
I also intended picking one so I could get the benefit of the scent this species pumps out in the evening. The idea of picking even one stressed me out at bit, as I don’t want to impede whatever meager self-sowing they’re capable of. I know we’re supposed to be philosophically opposed (and therefore aesthetically opposed, and probably olfactorily opposed) to anything non-native self-sowing into ‘the wild’ (if a roadside reserve can be counted as such), but I just can’t do it. I can’t share in the alarm about something like this sowing weakly – and only just managing that – into an area that has clearly been heavily disturbed by man many years ago, and as a consequence contains only rough non-native grasses, and none of the native wildflowers that are nearby in non-disturbed areas.
Anyway, I walked home by a slightly different route to normal, and I mustn’t have been this way at this time of year before, as I stumbled for the first time across a nice little colony of them (please note the careful use of the word ‘little’, and maybe I should substitute ‘colony of them’ with ‘close-knit family of them’, to assuage the concerns of the alarmists). It’s hard to describe the heart-warming feelings this sort of find can conjure. It makes me feel like it’s a particularly good day, and to wonder what I’ve done to deserve to live in a town that can dish up new little thrills like this even fifteen years after arriving. The day ahead looks rosier, and there’s even a retrospective glow cast over the last few hours leading up to the find. Totally irrational and disproportionate, maybe, but there it is.
Gladiolus tristis is anything but showy. It’s pretty much green, but the green is pale enough to read as lemon when in rough grass. Inside the flower the three upper petals have a double-stripe each of a sort of murky purple – aubergine perhaps – in a state of desaturation that is a perfect match for the pale green. The outside is penciled with fine veining of the same purple colouring. It’s one of those flowers that invites very, very close inspection.
As the eye gets that close, so does the nose, picking up on a warm scent that’s not like any other flower scent I know. I asked my teenage daughters if they could describe it. The first said she didn’t know, but when the second said that it smelt ‘like a flower’ the first then said that that was what she was going to say.
I told the story to my wife this morning, who also smelt the flower, and then said she kind of agreed. I could tell she thought that the girls reply showed a certain insight, but I wasn’t going to have that. In an attempt to take the whole thing a bit deeper (‘like a flower’! honestly!), I went on to explain that if I took the floral part of the scent away, and concentrated more on the effect it has on my nose, I detected something of the spice-draw about it, like a blend of cloves and cinnamon. She agreed to that too, and once she’d made the clove connection, and made the childhood dentist associations, the scent lost its appeal to her.
I absolutely love it.
While on the same walk, I also stumbled across several colonies of the charming orchid Diuris pedunculata (well I’m guessing that’s what it is. No doubt I’ll be corrected if its not).
(Sure enough, the correct name was soon supplied – the Small Snake orchid, Diuris chryseopsis)