P for Pruning, Perfume and Poetry: Julia Grigg’s Morrab Miscellany

Julia celebrates skillful pruning with an example close to Morrab Gardens, and captures the essence of summer in the perfume of pot pourri

P is for PRUNING and Anna PAVORD, The Independent newspaper’s Gardening Correspondent (see her Quote below) has firm views on this topic.

Pruning is an art – and one worth learning as, to flourish, plants need to be correctly pruned,’ she says, noting that pruning differs from ‘cutting back.’ ‘When you put in a tree or a shrub it’s only fair to give it the space it needs to express itself in its true form. Pruning should be thought of as a way of persuading plants to perform even better (in our eyes) than they would if left alone.’

Earlier in the year the time came for pruning a large, handsome common lime tree close to Morrab Gardens. In the images you can see how prolific was the growth of branches around and in between the tree’s four trunks.

The ‘after’ image shows this removed and the general thinning of branches resulting in much more light penetrating to the lawn below. Tim Wells of Expertrees Ltd, a Porthleven company (https://expertreesltd.co.uk/) undertook the transformation.


Work in progress and completed – pruning large, handsome common lime trees close to Morrab Gardens. Photos: Chris Mercer

Being in a Conservation Area, the lime has a Tree Protection Order placed on it under the 1990 Town and Country Planning Act. Landowners are responsible for arranging and paying for pruning but approval of any work must first come via an application to the Council submitted by a licensed contractor.

For me, the stately European lime or linden, Tilia platyphyllos​, is a truly pleasing tree: early to come in to leaf and one of the last to drop its foliage in the autumn.

And its PERFUME! Celebrated by composers and writers (whether strolling Berlin’s grand boulevards or dipping a petite madeleine biscuit into a delicate tisane) a waft of syrupy lime is surely the scent forever capturing summer. A renowned ‘nose’ in the world of parfumiers refers to heady, honey-scented lime flowers with their pale, dancing fronds as the ‘most beguiling of blossoms.’

Linden (or tilleul in French) is used in producing some commercial perfumes but is not among the blossoms that make up the gorgeous display you’ll see if visiting the ‘perfume capital city’ of Grasse in southern France at flower harvest time.

View of Grasse (Vue de Grasse), Lylambda, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

A particular confluence of sunlight, soil and temperature means that since the early C18 France’s historic parfumiers Gallimard, Molinard and Fragonard have cultivated acre upon acre of roses, mimosa, jasmine, lavender and myrtle here in carefully protected fields. The pale pink ‘May’ rose provides a glorious spectacle, its delicate scent at the heart of Chanel’s signature Number 5, with flowers also grown for Hermes and Dior.

It was the French king Louis XV (1715-74) who brought perfume to the forefront of sophisticated grooming, favouring all things scented, so much so that his Court became known as ‘the perfumed Court.’

The labour and ingredient-intensive nature of perfume production inevitably makes it a luxury item. To end up with 1 litre of any flower’s oil it takes 3 tons of petals! processed via distillation over hot water. Synthetic substitutes are made in laboratories of course, but a purist will always dismiss that, telling you there’s nothing like the real thing.

Madame de POMPADOUR was King Louis’ mistress. She soon had astutely assumed roles of POLITICAL adviser and PATRON of the arts, promoting PAINTING as well as production of PORCELAIN such as Sevres, whilst also supporting Enlightenment PHILOSOPHERS such as Rousseau and Voltaire.

The fashion for applying POMADE, an unguent for dressing the complicated, sometimes preposterously teetering, hairstyles of the day, emerged at this time. The base ingredient for pomade then was bear grease, so the addition of perfume was very likely a necessity.

In modern times the ‘Pompadour’ name has been taken for a style popular with both men and women which is ‘undercut’ at the sides with pomade or gel (minus bear grease and water-soluble) being used to add volume and lift the hair exaggeratedly high at the front of the head. Elvis Presley’s 1950s swept-back ‘quiff’ look was the forerunner of today’s spikier look.

Madame de Pompadour would perhaps have found this re-discovery of pomade remarkable, and certainly the invoking of her name rather curious – since her own hair was invariably styled modestly low.

When summer’s over it’s not necessarily the end to all flower perfumes. You can plant winter-scented shrubs such as Witch Hazel, Wintersweet and winter flowering Honeysuckle, Lonicera fragrantissima.

Or, by making your own POT POURRI, you can bring a bowl of summer inside to scent the house through the dark months.

This is simply done. Start by collecting dried flowers, petals, herbs and leaves, selecting highly scented ones for the base, such as rose, lavender, rosemary, lemon balm and marjoram. Fragrant rose and lavender essential oils are a good choice for adding to the mix: just a few drops to be stirred in to the dry components. Then add a fixative: either ground spice or orris root, before shaking well to mix. Then seal your pot pourri in a plastic container and leave for six weeks in a warm dry place.

Bowlful of summer memories Photo: J Spry-Leverton

I can’t conclude ‘P’ without mentioning POETRY.

Here’s wise words from David Constantine, winner of the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry 2020, ‘Poetry keeps on saying what it is we risk losing, what we are losing and what we might do about it. It is a celebration of things that are threatened, things without which life isn’t worth it.’

And here’s the last stanza of Louis MacNiece’s poem ‘Sunlight on the Garden.’ It dates from 1936 but doesn’t it strike you with its immediacy? its themes: loss and loss of innocence, anxiety about an ominous future and sharpened appetite for things one might once have taken for granted all so relevant today.

And not expecting pardon,
Hardened in heart anew,
But glad to have sat under
Thunder and rain with you,
And grateful too
For sunlight on the garden

P for ANNA PAVORD

Many of us garden because we can’t paint or sculpt or dash off a piano sonata. When we garden, we abandon a timetable constructed around dentists’ appointments… and the possible arrival of trains, to plunge headlong into a timetable that’s completely different, immense, inexorable and entirely outside our control, ruled by the sun, the moon, the seasons

A self-confessed tulipomaniac’ is how Anna Pavord (1940-) describes herself. Author and Gardening Correspondent for The Independent newspaper, Pavord’s 1999 book The Tulip (Bloomsbury) was a bestseller worldwide. To write it, she researched for years in Asia to unravel the story of how a humble wildflower from Turkey became so desired it was said to drive men mad with greed. At home in Dorset Pavord has planted her own gardens with thousands of the bloom, each year trying about 20 different ones, having once had the aim of growing every tulip in existence before she dies.

Read more of Julia Grigg’s Morrab Miscellany

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