Last year at this time I was able to go and hear at the Drill Hall, Westminster, Mr. Burbidge's exceedingly interesting address on 'Fragrant Leaves and Sweet-smelling Flowers.' This lecture has since been published in the 'Journal' of the Horticultural Society for October 1898.
Beyond wishing to remind others how much pleasure and instruction one gets from being a Fellow of the Royal Horticultural Society, I take a sentence from his lecture which seems useful and desirable for all gardeners. He says: 'I want you to rate all fragrant foliage quite as highly as you now profess to value sweet-scented blossoms. I also want to point out some of the essential differences, and advantages even, of foliage leaves as opposed to those floral leaves we call flowers. I am also particularly anxious to try and show that there is a sanitary basis, rather than a merely sensuous reason, for the usage of sweet odours and vegetable perfumes, whether the same be fresh or dried, living, dead, or distilled. Modern researches have amply proved that ozone is developed when the sun shines on most kinds of fragrant plants, such as flowers, Fir and Pine trees, and sweet herbs generally.' It is not much trouble to sow Lemon pips, and yet what is more delicious and reviving than the crushed leaf of a Lemon-tree?
I have found my increased number of Rosemary bushes a great joy. They live everywhere with the slight protection before described - namely, stuffed in all sorts of places under shrubs. But to grow and flower to perfection, as they do in Italy, they want to be under a wall in a warm corner, and fairly well nourished. No doubt their tendency to be killed in hard springs in the open must be the reason that so many gardens, especially small ones, where they are most precious, are content to do without them.
Many books and periodicals praise the old customs of using aromatic herbs, but in old days the smells they had to conceal must indeed have been innumerable. I suppose, unless by reading the accounts of how Russian peasants live even now, we cannot have any idea what England - and indeed all Europe - was, as regards dirt, two centuries ago. Our sweet modern homes are very different. All the same, how many houses are disagreeable from the smell of cooking which pervades them! Burning dry Lavender, dried Rosemary, dried Cedar-wood, or the essential oils of any of these, entirely does away with this nuisance, from which we have most of us suffered. Burning things of this kind is also most useful in cases of colds, influenzas, etc. Putting a piece of stale bread into the saucepan when Cabbages are being boiled prevents their smelling at all. This is pretty well known, but seldom practised; and the fact is, what causes the nasty smell to pervade a house is not so much boiling the Cabbages, but throwing the water while still hot down the sink. This should never be done till the water has cooled.
Cultivating the art of smelling has certainly been neglected of late, which for every reason is a mistake, as the absence of a sense is a sign of defective health; and if children's smell were tested, it would be noticed when deficient and the reasons would be diagnosed. In healthy children the power of smell is often very acute. To the blind, sweet-smelling leaves are more valuable than sweet-smelling flowers, which they cannot see; and the leaves last longer, pack easier, and would be much appreciated in hospitals for eye diseases.
Another very interesting letter I received about my last book I will quote: 'I am simply writing with the object of calling your attention to a group of plants which I have in my small way been cultivating for years, and which give me great pleasure every summer. I refer to the night-flowering and night-scented plants. To a business man like myself they are specially welcome, as my time is all occupied with business during the day, and the evening only is left in which we can enjoy our gardens. The most interesting in the group is that exquisite little gem of an annual, Schizopetalum Walkeri. It has no English name unfortunately; you will find it in William Thompson's catalogue. This little flower is pure ivory-white, of a Maltese cross form, and after dark throws out a most delicate perfume, not unlike the Almond. I also sow a packet or two of Matthiola bicornis, or Sweet-scented Stock. It is powerfully fragrant after dusk, and is of a pleasant character. Then I have a few plants of Nicotiana affinis scattered about the garden. These you will know better than myself. There is also the Hesperis tristis, which I find somewhat difficult to grow here [Manchester]. Also Œnothera odorata, another of the type. So that here you have a small group of plants which kindly reserve their fragrance, store it up during the daytime, and then considerately during the twilight and evening, when the breadwinner of the family comes home after his day's toil, throw out their precious odours and make the garden all the pleasanter and more refreshing for the night stroll after supper.'