There are close connections between the part of the brain that processes signals related to smell (olfactory signals) from the nose and the amygdala- the part of the brain responsible for storing and processing memories. When I bury my nose in a posy of sweet peas I am whisked back to the late seventies and early eighties-to my Grandfather’s suburban allotment in Liverpool where he grew rows and rows of old fashioned sweet peas. I would often accompany him to his ‘plot’ as he called it, and he would bring armfuls home for my Gran. That delicious heady smell stirs emotions as well as images in my mind though. My Grandfather was my closest friend whilst I was a child. He taught me to plant seeds, stand quietly in a garden to listen to the birds and take in the colours and scents and he helped to instill in me a love of nature and gardening. When I smell this, one of my favourite flowers, the grief I feel that he is no longer around to chat to about aubretia and golden eagles and tornadoes is acute. It’s at its sharpest during sweet pea time. There is a small part of me that is reluctant for sweet peas to come into season. I know I will buy them whenever I see them. Most years (although not this year) I grow them up a willow wigwam in the garden, yet I know that the close contact with this beautiful flower will spark unwanted painful memories associated with the last years of his life and make me want him back, very badly.
I won’t stop growing and buying them though. I’ve discovered that 75p buys me a posy of them from the honesty box farm shop at the edge of the village. This year, perhaps to assuage my guilt at not having time to germinate sweet peas, I’ve been drawing them as part of my year-long project to record seasonal flowers growing in both garden and hedgerow. A few weeks ago Emily of Home and Roam asked me to design a sweet pea tattoo for her. As I studied the Victorian botanical plates and horticultural images prior to taking up my pencil it was almost a sort of floral therapy – it forced me to think about those summers more than thirty years ago and focus on the positive memories when my Grandad was still spry, enthusiastic, and full of passion and things to teach me. It allowed me to cherish those times.
The joyful memories of my Grandad’s regimented rows of sweetpeas growing up bamboo canes and tied in with string next to his raspberry bushes and huge prize-winning onions are what I thought of when I was drawing the new Flatland Drygoods sketchbook design. These sweetpeas on the cover are the sweetpeas our granddads grew, the ones we remember from childhood and the ones we grow now for their beautiful shape and scent. This new design is available in our Etsy shop along with a beautiful hedgerow motif on the bookmark, designed by Lu. Our sketchbooks/journa;s are perfect for making creative notes, have high quality paper for drawing and an integral glassine envelope for collecting small plant specimens or nature finds whilst out on walks.
Which scents are evocative of childhood or precious memories for you? I’d love to hear.