Its that time of year when even the most depressing of hardware garden centres is underservedly graced, for just a few weeks, with the ambrosial – the paradisiacal – the entirely matchless – scent of boronia.
I’ve been told that I’m subject to exaggeration (which I grudgingly accept, though can’t myself see), but it just isn’t possible to exaggerate the beguiling complexity of this perfume above perfumes.
I so wish I could put my hands on the October 1951 issue of the English mag ‘My Garden’, and recount word-for-word the memorable story of a distracted Londoner walking down a chilly street in an early London spring, and being stopped in their tracks by their first ever whiff of brown boronia (Boronia megastigma). My memory of their reaction is such as to make mine above look unimaginative and underworked. I know I have that issue somewhere, but it’s not amongst my near-complete collection of these fabulous mags, published between 1934 and 1951. If anyone out there has a copy, the index in the December issue of that years says it’s on page 305!
One can only imagine smelling it for the first time as an adult. It would be something akin to discovering a colour you never knew existed – one you thought the spectrum previously incapable of providing. As Aussies we’ve grown up with it, so have always known nature capable of conjuring such a scent, but this doesn’t detract from the annual miracle of its brief manifestation.
I love that this olfactory magic emerges from such a humble plant. And one that we (in typical Aussie style) further devalue by simply calling it ‘brown’ boronia. In good strong sunlight, the outside of the cup-shaped flowers on my current plant are distinctly aubergine to maroon, with an inner lining of a very slightly tainted lime, or what you’d get if you mixed a little black into yellow – providing a really curious combination not unlike (come to think of it) the green/purple thing of a pistachio nut, or something you might expect of a fritillaria.
The plant itself is of no garden use to me. I can’t provide the combination of perfectly drained but never dry soil that it demands (and surely only small pockets of WA achieves). I’m perfectly happy to buy a plant every year, from said depressing (but cheap) hardware garden centre, and turf it once the flowers fade.
Meanwhile I am temporarily transported to nasal heaven. My wife, alas, can’t smell it, so I have to go alone.