Perfumes of the forest and garden
GARDENINGFLORA AND FAUNA AND THE FOREST WORLDCLIMATE CHANGE SEASONS
The forest has its familiar scents which change throughout the year. Breathe deeply and you will encounter them. But the scents of our pine forest are subtle, far removed from the brash 'pine fresh disinfectant ' that fills our nostrils with odious chemicals. Our forest air is as pure as the purest air in Europe. Go on , savour it, as you would a fine wine.
But all is not well with the air that we breathe elsewhere. A recent investigation by The Guardian newspaper has revealed that 98% of Europeans breathe highly damaging polluted air. While Eastern Europe is worse than Western Europe, we have little reason to be complacent. Close to 30 million Europeans live where small particulate concentrations are four times as high as WHO guidelines. Not a single country is exempt, including France.
So, how does our village compare? The Guardian has produced an interactive map of Europe which reveals the precise air pollution levels of any spot you choose to research. Why not google it, and see how your own town or village compares? I learned that there are very few areas, towns, or villages in Europe which have pollutants of 5 micrograms per cubic metre or less. Only large parts of Scandinavia, the Alps, Northern Scotland and the French Massif Centrale, can boast such levels of pure air. When I focus on St Etienne de Gourgas...Halleluja... our air is considered to be pure. But should we travel a few kilometres south towards Montpellier, pollution levels start to rise. It is certainly good to know that we can go out into our forest and BREATHE DEEPLY.
The forest is full of aromas. When the air is warm, the scent of pine mingles with less specific scents of earth and sweet balsam. But what is that overarching sweet floral fragrance that floats on the air as we walk through the forest in the autumn? If you search amongst the trees there will be no obvious source. But look a little closer and you may find a twisting green vine with heart shaped leaves and spiny tendrils. This is smilax. It is this rather insignificant plant from which emanates the most heady of perfumes. There are many varieties . In Southern France we have the smilax aspera or Salsepareille , which bears tiny yellowish green flowers, followed by pretty red berries. It will continue to waft its perfume until late in November. In the U.K they still make Sarsaparilla , a soft drink flavoured with the root of the smilax, whereas in America it was once used to flavour root beer.
But beware those thorns. One day, a few years, we lost our dog Simba while walking in the forest. A while later we found him some distance from the path, completely entwined and imprisoned by this plant. It is not as innocuous as its sweet perfume may imply.
At other times different perfumes blow on the breeze. In spring we enjoy the mimosa, with its sweet tickly scent, while in summer wild honeysuckle blooms amongst the forest undergrowth, to fill our evening strolls with pleasure.
But of course it is the herbs that are so redolent of the garrigue. When we walk we may accidentally crush marjoram or thyme underfoot , and suddenly we are aware of them, as they waft their woody scents.