Ah, the smells of autumn, dusty-musty falling leaves and chimney smoke borne on crisp, dry air. There's nothing I love more than that campfire fragrance that lingers longer on your flannel-check shirt come fall. This week I've been lucky with a chance for that smoky smell, twice.
The first opportunity was pure serendipity, you had to be at the right place at the right time as a neighbor with a new outdoor pizza oven and lots of leftover dough was rounding up people out raking leaves. I have to confess we weren't raking but heading off on a rug-buying run which we quickly abandoned in favor of wood-fired food.
The same week friends with a way above-average talent for backyard design asked us over to sit by the fire, my favorite kind of invite. Seating fashioned from wood pallets covered in plaid blankets forms an inglenook for enjoying the toasty warmth. The actual fire pit is a high semi-circle of "found" rocks that radiates heat so efficiently. Flames are conducive to good conversation, we discussed the upcoming election, fat-content and flavor of various fast food burgers and owls among other things.
But all this woodsy odor isn't unexpected. Well, I'm getting to that. Go out to my small backyard (we have a mullet-style garden, it's all pollinator-party in the front and rainwater management-business in the back) and you find yourself sniffing and saying hmmm, what is that?
Katsura, Cercidiphyllum japonicum: I love the leaves on this specimen tree. They are usually described as heart-shaped, hence the many comparisons to the equally adorable redbud tree. For me they resemble round coins, especially golden coins when they turn color in fall. As the leaves dry out they produce a burnt-sugar smell similar to cotton candy.
Prairie Dropseed, Sporoblulus heterolepsis: This graceful grass is a favorite of mine, a hardy native with high habitat value for wildlife. Starting in early fall pinkish-tan blooms form above the wiry blades. These blooms are called panicles and they smell just like popcorn.
Bugbane, Actaea simplex, 'Black Negligee': Such a racy name for this cultivar, referring to its lacy dark foliage and come-hither blooms. You may previously know this plant as "cimicifuga" (pronounced semi-se-fooga), more fun to say but killjoy botanists have reclassified it. It's one of the last flowers to bloom in my garden each year. You'd expect the fragrance to be something spicy, perhaps musky. But no, it's unmistakably grape soda!
Funny that completely unplanned these plants should all end up in my garden within a few feet of each other. Altogether they celebrate the end-of-season joys of the garden. If asked to name a perfume combining all of their scents, no doubt I would call it State Fair!