The smell of September

Wandering along the old walls of Lucca this morning I kept passing through thin, vertical bands like curtains of a fresh, sweet scent.  Without conscious effort, my brain was madly googling through old files, knowing that there were past references to be found there. I detected hints of citrus and traces of sweet, ripe, stone fruit but I couldn’t dredge up any other information or recognition from my memory files.  My fear was that it was just the perfume of one of the locals, strolling the paths along these old fortifications, as they do on a Sunday morning.

But then we entered the garden of Villa Pfanner, and the volume on this delicious scent was suddenly turned right up.  I was dashing around sniffing everything in sight, but being familiar with everything I tried, knew before each sniff that I hadn’t yet found the source.  Then, from an unexpected direction came the question that solved the mystery.  ‘What’s that orange thing over there with the fabulous scent?’.

There it was, in full view the whole time – Osmanthus fragrans aurantiacus.  Carlos, our local guide, said he knew it as Olea fragrans – which is a near perfect translation of the ‘common name’ by which it’s only uncommonly known – sweet olive.  He said that it is, for him, the very smell of September in Lucca.


  1. Thanks for the mental image of you dashing with great enthusiasm from plant to plant looking for the elusive source of the scent. In my own garden I was just thrilling to the early morning beginnings of the night jasmine that self-seeded on the neighbour’s side of my back fence last year. He’s not a man who likes horticultural misbehavior however and the sunrise scent drew attention to the interloper – it had been mown down by a brush cutter before I’d finished this morning’s coffee!

  2. I love spring/early summer in my locale in Adelaide – avenues of Melias, Orange Jessamine, Jacaranda,the occasional Gardenia, and some smells I just never work out! Walking the dog, it is hard to tell who is sniffing the more determinedly!

  3. Looking at the picture without reading, I was guessing if it is Osmanthus. The smell I registered in the Autumn in Shanghai when I grew up, pay the yearly pillage for this sweet smell with my grandparents and family. The smell associates with special sweets of childhood, something I’m longing here in Sydney after 30 years left China. Last year I bought two plants from a market garden, one silver, one gold. Sometimes walking along the suburban streets, I can smell the waft long distance away, jealousing homes with this plant. Unfortunately, mine still haven’t flowered. They’re slow growing, hope we’ve chosen the right spots for them.

Leave a Comment

More Blog Posts

Great Dixter by deception

I was hunting for a pretext on which to show off some rare photos of Great Dixter (one of my favourite places in the world, and about which I tend to rant a little too often and at too great a length) ...

I'm back, and all smiles

I’m just back from Nelmac Garden Marlborough – a garden festival like no other, based in Blenheim, in the Northern-most part of the South Island of New Zealand. I boldly state ‘like no other’ ...

What is it about Italian gardens?

I’m fresh back from my first trip to Italy.  I can’t remember ever being so infatuated with another country..  But I want to skip over the temptation to write a whole lot of gushing generalities ...