Chasing Violets

What will you do with your extra day in 2016

Viola odorata in all its weedy glory. Photo: Lorene Edwards Forkner

Viola odorata in all its humble glory. Photo: Lorene Edwards Forkner

Spend the afternoon. You can’t take it with you.
–Annie Dillard

The (admittedly weedy) sweet violets are blooming. They are exceptionally fragrant; I like them. Which is a very good thing because, even if I wanted to, I don’t think I could ever get rid of them. Scattered along the fringes of beds and borders, today’s plants are the progeny of a single 4-inch nursery pot purchased at a flower show in the late 90s. They have survived complete neglect and massive renovation in equal measure: see “weedy” above.

There’s not a cultivar name in the bunch. Their stems are short, which means the slug-gnawed blossoms are usually splashed with mud—hardly fodder for romantic nosegays and posies. And there will be no candying-of-petals on my watch.

Other than their remarkably enduring constitution, the singular appeal of my very humble Viola odorata is their sweet and slightly cloying scent—more grandmothers’ talc than spicy perfume. And magic. The fragrance of sweet violets can only be detected in brief, intense intervals. And then it’s gone. One minute you catch the powdery—some call it “dry”— aroma on the breeze. The next, nothing. Just mud and wet knees in the spring garden.

Sweet violets Photo: Lorene Edwards Forkner

Sweet violets Photo: Lorene Edwards Forkner

OK, so it only seems like magic. The plant’s fragrance contains compounds called ionones that temporarily desensitize scent receptors in the nose, literally blinding your perception of its perfume. Once the nerves recover you’ll catch another whiff; and so on, and so on. It’s transient, like trying to grasp a nice spring day in the Pacific Northwest. Only those who show up in the garden will be there to catch momentary sun breaks and the scent of sweet violets.

The calendar grants 2016 an extra day. A recommendation is circulating that we should take advantage of these bonus hours and do something nice for ourselves. Tackle a creative project, focus on personal growth. I’m going to spend the day in the garden, rooting out weeds, laying mulch, and chasing violets.