What’s the first thing you do when you get flowers?
Generally we smile with warmth and positive feelings and then almost instinctively, we smell the flowers. The fragrance can sometimes have just as much impact on a person as the beauty of the flowers themselves.
Sadly, in the quest to grow stronger plants and bigger blooms for commercial production, many flowers have been hybridized to the point of losing most of their fragrance.
This is something that growers are working to restore, but it can take many generations, trials and retrials to manage this, so the results are not to be achieved quickly.
Scents can serve as a powerful trigger for memories, both positive and negative depending on the association.
For me, the fragrance of the deep red ‘Mr. Lincoln’ Rose is a powerful reminder of love and romance, as I was courted by a man who grew these roses. He would bring me a bunch every time he visited.
The scent of these roses is quite hypnotic and can fill a room with fragrance using only a few stems in a vase. So, long after this man had left my company at the weekend, I was reminded of him every time I walked into the room and smelled the roses.
I am still married to this man 20 years later!
It is because of this type of strong positive association that memories of good times, love and joy can be triggered for those who may not be presently experiencing them. This is called olfactory memory.
The olfactory bulb is part of the brain’s limbic system, which is involved in behavior and motivation. This Paleomammalian section of the brain is stimulated by olfactory nerves when we smell something.
The olfactory bulb sits in close proximity to the amygdala, which processes emotions and stimulates the hippocampus, which is responsible for associative learning.
So a simple “sniff” of something desirable can almost instantly project our minds and emotions to the place where we first smelled it.
Flowers have a strong connection with people at different times of their life. Whether flowers signify birth, death or special celebrations they oftentimes serve to mark life’s passages and can trigger powerful emotions.
It could perhaps be through reminiscing about growing vegetables during hard financial times, such as during the Great Depression. The sight and smell of home grown vegetables for many elderly people can be a reminder of perseverance or determination that bring a sense of hope.
Tapping into this human/plant connection can be a valuable tool to lift our spirits, to encourage the weak, or to give hope in a tragic situation. It can also bring friendship and caring to the lonely.
Sharing these memories and experiences is often cathartic for both the receiver as well as the giver and provide a very special bond between the two.
Toni Salter, ‘The Veggie Lady’, is an Australian registered horticulturist living in Sydney who runs therapeutic gardening programs. Follow Toni on Twitter and ‘Like’ her on Facebook