The return of an old friend
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There is such a thing as Wisteria Hysteria
Each May in the UK, as the ground begins to warm up, this beauty feels a stirring at its roots and, with an almost palpable rush of excitement, causes a tingle all over as its porcelain-blue buds start to emerge.
I’ve been in Venice during Italy’s wisteria season, determined to steal a march on May by getting an April preview. I was desperate to experience this moment: I’d heard so many people talk about it so fondly, with a sense of nostalgia that intrigued me. What was it, I wondered, that makes the blooming of this plant so very special?
I got my first answer to this question before I even saw my first wisteria in flower:
It was the scent
I’m not sure whether it’s due to the lack of cars, but in this city of water and walls and warmth, it’s the fragrance of this plant that gets you before you even lay eyes on the source. Captured between walls of the narrow alleys, the smell hovers at nose-height and leads you on, come-hithering in the way that it does best. You catch an extract of something and you start to look about - it’s not to your left nor to the right; you look up, but it’s not above either. Giving up for a moment and putting it down to imagination, you’re then suddenly greeted by a mass of purple which you’re convinced wasn’t there when you last looked. It plays tricks on you, this plant. It’s always in charge at flowering time; it seems to know it has the upper hand.
I’m not sure how I can describe the fragrance of the wisteria
I think there’s definitely a touch of lilac, but with something else in there with it. Something spicy. Cloves? Carnation? I need an expert to explain to me why it captures me in the way that it does.
Heading to The Perfume Society for an explanation, I think I’m on the right track. They say:
Captured in a bottle, wisteria’s as lush and beautiful as when it scampers up the outside of a house or over a pergola, garlanding them with multi-flowered, hanging ‘racemes’. There’s a touch of lilac about this feminine perfume note – but a slightly spicy undertone that adds intrigue, at the same time, reminiscent of the cloviness of carnation.
And so it is that in April, I can be found in Venice, nose in the air and bumping into lots of people in the process, following the scented trail of the wisteria. Just as I think I’ve exhausted all the examples in an area, suddenly I get another heady whiff which I absolutely have to follow. It turns even the shortest journey into quite a long one as I become distracted and diverted in equal measure.
To me it seems that it’s more than in part due to the connotations carried by the wisteria flowers: unexpected beauty, the arrival of an old friend, the improbably huge racemes of flowers which look so heavily light.
Wisteria are often seen against house walls, but the traffic-stopping beauty of these flowers, most familiar in shades of purple, lilac, and violet, can be even further heightened by a background of sky.