: something that lasts for a very short time : something ephemeral specifically : a plant that grows, flowers, and dies in a few days
As a gardener, I tend to enjoy ephemerals – in other people’s gardens. In my own, I like a sturdier flower, mostly because I don’t have the time or inclination to keep planting over stuff – and I don’t have the space for ephemerals to do their thing and then drop dead on me. Also, I don’t have much shade at all – and most of the ephemerals I love do require a bit of shade. And then there’s the snow (and there’s a 1 in 2 chance those snowdrops will be mired in muck under 18″ of snow)…..blahblahblah. Lots of reasons for me to not want to grow them outdoors.
Inside, however, I do grow a version of them – and am often quite adventurous, which can fail spectacularly (ask me about the Himalayan Blue Poppy – Meconopsis betonicifolia – which kicked my butt, both indoors and out). There’s a woman in Wisconsin, of all places, who grows it -but I suspect she’s done a deal with the debbil because……okay, maybe she’s just a better gardener than I am. They are a tough row to hoe – and I am a lazy goat. If you’re too difficult, out you go! Ain’t nobody got TIME for that.
But back to ephemerals. I consider indoors in Winter the perfect place for ephemerals such as hyacinths & paperwhites. Our house is GFA heated so they don’t last long, no matter how much humidity I throw at them – and that’s okay – because, well, that’s the whole point of ephemerals, isn’t it? They slide into view, wafting some much-needed Spring onto your Winter-exhausted self. Then, just as you are getting ready to take them for granted…poof! they’ve exploded their dried petals all over your parsons table.
my kitchen counter – keeping folks safe in Winter since 1993!
And the scent! You know what I love about hyacinths & paperwhites? The fragrance is always elusive (I have been accused of looking like a Pointer, when in a grocery store where hyacinths are blooming (but I can’t immediately see them) – I can only catch the scent on the breeze! Diane Ackerman
talks about this (in re to violets, to which I am almost completely anosmic, alas) in her amazing book A Natural History of the Senses
(and yes, I yark on about that book at least once a year – usually around this time). She writes: “Violets contain ionine, which short-circuits our sense of smell. The flower continues to exude its fragrance, but we lose the ability to smell it. Wait a minute or two, and its smell will blare again. Then it will fade again, and so on.”
For me, Hyacinths have that same ‘come and go’ scent habit, as do paperwhites and Korean Spice bush (which I cannot grow indoors! Because it is the size of a VW bus! lol!) – and for those bulbs I always find the ‘smell’ (or concept) of dirt plays as important a part as the smell of the flower. And, in true ephemeral fashion, it dances on the sunlight, then disappears.
In perfumery, I find dianthus and galbanum (especially galbanum) to have much that same effect – galbanum (which I also cannot grow AT ALL since I don’t have an Iranian hillside and anyway, it smells a bit resin-y (okay, a LOT resin-y), weird as it is, combines with floral notes to create some very ephemeral, green, fragrances. Oakmoss, done with a light hand, has the same effect. Balmain Vent Vert was my first exposure to galbanum, back in the Jurassic Era, and I have never forgotten it. Liz Zorn’s Soivohle Green Oakmoss brings to mind a half-wild, overgrown garden at the cusp of Spring.
No19 is the epitome of Spring, while its sister, Cristalle, is the epitome of ‘Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most’ (for us Sarah and Ella fans) ….. and Coty Elan, which is more of a memory of my romantic teenaged self than anything. But isn’t that the point of ephemerals? They’re here, they bring such joy….. and then they’re gone. But they leave a lasting (if vague) memory.
How do you feel about ephemerals? What are your favorites? How do you feel about Spring? Is it here yet?