I don’t think I have a single memory not associated with a fragrance or scent of some kind. Mostly these are plant smells…the freesias that remind me of my grandmother, the fir trees my father loved, the jasmine on Russian Hill that flung its arms about me when I opened the car door and stepped into the magical city of San Francisco for the first time.
As a teenager I worked in a rare plant nursery. Blessed with a truly sensitive nose I could detect fragrances in almost every flower. Not all of them were necessarily a delight.
These days I make a living by printing cloth with plants, a contact process that creates images from leaves, flowers and bark and retains some of the essence of the dye materials along with their images on the dyed surface. If I dye with Corymbia citridora then my studio is redolent with lemon scents for days afterward. Eucalyptus crenulata smells like an exotic spice from a far-off bazaar.
On my travels I wear coats and wraps dyed with plants from home. Walking through the gentle moisture of a passing fog can be enough to bring their fragrance to life. But evocative smells aside, the simple imagery produced by plants in contact with cloth can be as good as a photograph, sometimes even better, in terms of making a tangible souvenir of a time or a place. The colour imprinted is not necessarily that of the original leaf…in some cases it is almost the opposite. Eucalypts, like lobsters, change colour under heat. But the marks and the scent are there, telling a story.
That posy from grandma’s garden, leaves gathered with your toddler in the autumn, the first rose you had from your sweetie…they can all be bundled in fragments of silk or wool and steamed to release their colours before committing them to the compost heap. And then you’ll have a memory of those precious things forever. Or until the moths get them.