Merriam-Webster’s Definition of ephemeral

: 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.

Green Oakmoss

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?
  • Ann says:

    Darling, STC has samples of the Rochester lilac. It really is nice. And all the lilac talk has me craving Vacances like crazy!! Hugs to you!!

  • Jennifer S says:

    If you google Highland Lilac of Rochester you’ll find their website where 3.99 will get you a nice sized sample which should last forever as a few drops will more than do the trick! It is a gorgeous and most realistic lilac perfume.

  • Maya says:

    I haven’t been to the lilac festival yet,but the perfume they sell is straight-up lovely lilac. Next time I want to order their lotion also.

    • Musette says:

      wait. what? WHAT?? What perfume? WHAT LOTION? xoxo

      • Maya says:

        It’s highlanlilac.com. You can check the perfume on Fragrantica. The perfume is a lilac soliflore and I love it. It smells like real lilacs to me and they have a scented lotion that goes with the perfume. I want to get the lotion too.

  • Queen Cupcake says:

    I love lilac, too! For you lilac fans, try to get to Rochester, NY some day when the lilacs are blooming in Highland Park. There are dozens and dozens of different varieties of lilacs there, and they all smell a little different! This year’s Lilac Festival is scheduled for May 10-19.

    • Musette says:

      that sounds delightful! Lombard IL has a similar festival (in Lilacia Park) and my bfffe got a yellow lilac from there! Ours (theirs) starts a bit earlier than yours, 1May, but ends 19May. xoxoxo

  • Maya says:

    I’m with/in the lilac camp. I love them and whenever I smell them I am a kid again. Every yard seemed to have lilacs. It was wonderful! The perfume that is ephemeral to me is Guerlain Apres L’Ondee – the original, real, vintage one. Among other things, there is a wistfulness about it.

    • Musette says:

      Apres L’Ondee is heartbreakingly beautiful, isn’t it? And I agree on the lilacs – where have they all gotten to?


  • Sapphire says:

    We finally live in a place where lilacs grow. Texas is too hot for them. My favorite lilac scents are En Passant and Aerin Likac Path. The Aerin is spot-on, while the En Passant has the watery cucumber thing added. That said, honeysuckle is actually my favorite, but I have yet to smell a perfect honeysuckle perfume. The AG Chevrefeuille smelled sour on me.

    • Musette says:

      I’ll have to try the Aerin! I have honeysuckle in my garden but it doesn’t have much scent – that may be because it’s nestled near a Therese Bugnet rose and nothing competes with that!


  • Dina C. says:

    These kind of scents are my favorite ones — the wispy gentle ones. Love greens, and iris and galbanum and narcissus are my top favs.

    • Musette says:

      definitely try Liz’s Green Oakmoss, then – it’s all that!!! Oh! Jacomo Silences, too! xoxoxo

  • rosarita says:

    I love all of these mentioned, plus blooming tulips (no smell but such a perfect bit of spring.) Sadly I can’t have plants or cut flowers in my bitty old house because of our enormous, curious cat who would love to give a vase a big ole whack or dig in the dirt, so I take all manner of blooming bulbs and bouquets out to my mother. She taught herself Ikebana years ago and can make wonderful arrangements out of those $3 flowers from Aldi’s; since I’m her caretaker, I get to enjoy them too.
    And seriously Ms A, signs of spring? With all the weather people yammering about the polar vortex? Not yet but I see 50F is predicted for next week. Crazy.

    • Musette says:

      Babydoll, our ENTIRE TOWN is shut down. Winds are topping out at 30mph, which makes the current 8F feel like -12. THEN? Tonight? The REAL -12 happens. Then -20. We’ve shut down the shop and everybody gets to stay the hell home tomorrow.

      My Spring is all indoors – ever. damb. bit. of it! And I’m buying seeds and plants like a crackhead, trying to chivvy Spring along! LOL!

      I’d love to see your mom’s arrangements – I love Ikebana, though I tend to have such a skittery mind that I can’t focus on making it look elegant.


  • Queen Cupcake says:

    My little patch of lily of the valley awaits under frozen ground. Inside the house, we can barely keep the houseplants alive, it is so dry. Right about this time of year, I go to a very large commercial greenhouse–maybe this weekend–to breathe in the green & dirt smells, the hyacinth and all… I miss the cheddar pinks I had in the flower border that my husband inadvertently dug out to plant something else. 🙁 I used to get on the ground and practically roll around in them.

    • Musette says:

      oh, noooes! on the cheddar pinks! Bless his po’ hort. This is why NOBODY cuts/digs/etc – except Kay (she’s the one who clued me in to the ragweed – but that is for another day)

      Commercial greenhouse in Winter. SUCH a blessing. I don’t have any around here, so make do (ha!) with botanic conservatories – there are several in Chicago – that sense of humidity/dirt/floral/fecundity – in the depths of Winter.


    • March says:

      YESSSSSSSS It’s greenhouse time! There’s one not too far from me and it is calling to me.

      Anita, I realllly need to go get a buncho random bulbs and force them. I am so in the mood for those lovely smells.

      • Musette says:

        Dew eeet! Though you may be too late for bulbs – not for the forcing, but for the buying. In which case, get thee to the Teeter and buy a couple of pots o’ stuff! xoxoxo

  • Brigitte says:

    I am with Tara and Kathleen…lilacs. Spring is my favorite season and it cannot get her soon enough! We are bracing ourselves for snow and then ridiculously cold weather.
    and galbanum and oakmoss…I love em in their pure essential oil version…undilited 🙂

    • Musette says:

      where are you, Brigitte? I’m in IL, not quite as cold as my kid (who’s in WI – they are looking at -30. BEFORE the windchill) but damb near.

      Lilacs are Spring, imo.

      If you love oakmoss, do try Liz’s Green Oakmoss – it’s pure gorgeousness! She has samples, if you want to just, y’know, sample it! 😉


  • matty says:

    I love the cherry blossom trees when in full bloom.

    • Musette says:

      oh, those are always so gorgeous! I have peach blossoms, which look similar, and they are always so lovely! xoxo

  • Mim says:

    Korean spice viburnum! I caught that halfway down the block in somebody else’s garden and walked down their driveway and leaned over their fence just to bury my face in the not-a-lilac bush!

    I really wanted to grow it inside too, even though it’s only around for like 1 week a year and the rest of the time it’s just leaves. It’s cool that somebody else feels my longing and frustration. Please do let us know if you ever find a way to manage it…

    I still think someday I’m going to try to bonsai it but in the meantime my Jasmine’s bloom in the winter will do.

    I like sequential bloomers, and my star jasmine which seems to scent the entire summer.
    Ephemerals for me are worth it if their beauty or scent is worth the work.

    Never knew that about Violet– always wondered why I never smelled it in the real world, only in perfume.

    Happy gardening!

    • Musette says:

      KSB is That Smell. I first smelled it when a neighbor’s 20′ high bush started blooming, back in the late 80s. I could only smell it on the breeze – and so it took awhile to figure out what it was. But omgosh, the smell!!!

      I’ve never bonsai’d anything – but that sounds like a worthy cause! DO try it – and lmk how it goes!


  • Ellen says:

    I love all the ephemerals you mentioned. I still have hopes that the Korean Spice bush will grow. It looked sad the last time I looked. I love hyacinths and all the other flowers of Spring. It hasn’t hit the east coast yet…Spring that is. Wishing. Daffodils, tulips, lily of the valley, etc etc. etc.

    • Musette says:

      KSB takes awhile – and if you transplant a mature bush (or any of them, to be honest) they pout for awhile. Then, just about the time you’ve give up hope, they shoot up and blossom like crazy!

      Spring is so far away from us right now (anticipating this horrid PVortex, bringing -20F) – I am having Spring indoors! And staying there to enjoy it! lol!


  • Kathleen says:

    I agree with you Tara C. Lilacs; my favorite ephemeral as well. My little bush blooms for about 2-3 weeks end of April and it is the most glorious smell. I love to bury my nose in the flowers and breathe deeply! I’d love to know if a great lilac perfume exists. The closest I’ve found to true lilac aroma is Pacifica French Lilac.

    • Musette says:

      I have to approach lilacs much as I do paperwhites: sideways. If I get too close I lose the scent. But omgosh, SUCH a glorious scent!


  • Tara C says:

    Well, there isn’t really any winter to speak of here in San Diego. But my favourite ephemerals (because the blooming season is short and precious) are wisteria and lilac. I get the wisteria for about two weeks here in San Diego around the end of March, then lilac in May after I’ve returned to Canada. Wisteria has very little scent, but the lilac brings me to my knees with ecstasy. Pity I’ve never found a truly great lilac perfume that replicates that smell.

    • Musette says:

      Tara, there are some scents in nature that, imo, simply cannot be truly replicated in perfumery – lilac is one of them (though there are some amazing lilac scents out there). Wisteria can exude a lovely scent but not to the extent of lilac.

      Stay in San Diego for awhile – it’s -1F here, then we go to 5F, then plunge to -20+, which is just absurd.