When I was a child, my parents would release me to the outdoors after dinner. Summer dusks here are long, and all the other kids would be sprung in the same way, to “go outside and play.” Our playground was enormous, patches of woods at either end of the street, and big, sloping back yards. Ours had a small creek running through it, and the other kids would come to it, seeming instinctively drawn to the water.
Behind the creek there was a neighbor’s chain-link fence, nearly invisible under a thick growth of honeysuckle vine. At dusk, the whole area would be fragrant with the sweet and heavy scent of the flowers. While we waited for fireflies, we’d pick blossoms. If you pulled away the stem gently enough, then squeezed the flower’s base, a drop of nectar would appear. Applied to the tip of the tongue, that nectar was the sweetest, most delicious taste imaginable. We’d pick blossom after blossom, until the fireflies -- which we called “lightnin’ bugs” -- would appear, flying slowly enough for us to catch them in jars. We’d make the jars our night lights.
On a street adjacent to mine there is a small house, abandoned now, owned by the last descendent of the family which once held all the land around here. The yard is full of what my neighbors call “junk” and I think of as the natural antecedent to Southern folk art -- mysterious rusted metal objects, ancient yard tools, falling-down swing sets, a tilting shed. While walking by it the other day, I smelled a familiar, gardenia-like scent, and soon came across a big growth of honeysuckle vine on the chain-link fence. Breathing in the intoxicating aroma made me remember. I picked a blossom, and tasted the nectar. Sweet but not sugary, and fresh as dew, it was as delicious as that memory. I wondered, again, if these childhood experiences led me to perfume.
Honeysuckle is not looked upon kindly by conservationists or land-management experts. It’s invasive. Although Lonicera Japonica, the Japanese honeysuckle of the South, arrived in the US in the early 1800’s, it still isn’t called a native plant. Like kudzu, it’s a perennial vine, which can spread via underground rhizomes or by seeding. It twists itself around anything vertical, and can even choke out trees. But it supports a large variety of butterflies and moths, and provides children -- those lucky enough to be allowed to roam, anyway -- with a precious sensory experience.
There are around 180 types of honeysuckle, which grows primarily in the Northern Hemisphere, and about 20 in the U.S. It’s classified as a “noxious weed” in several states. Planting it is unlawful in New Hampshire. If you look it up, you’ll find a whole lot of Agricultural Department advice about getting rid of it. Burning it, poisoning it, ripping it out of the ground -- all these are covered, and more. Still, the plant thrives. You don’t see as much of it as you used to, though. It would never be allowed to grow in the manicured yards on my street, but that old abandoned homestead -- that’s another story. A little clapboard house, a front porch with a swing, a yard full of God knows what all that stuff was -- and honeysuckle, climbing up the chain-link fence again.
There are a number of perfumes with a honeysuckle note. Creed makes “Chevrefueille,” which means “Honeysuckle” in French, and has an ambergris base. Diorella -- the modern version -- combines it with lemon and vetiver. Vintage Guerlain Chant d’Aromes lists it, as does vintage Arpege. Jo Malone makes a Honeysuckle and Jasmine scent, and Liz Zorn’s “Honeysuckle Bird” uses it along with linden, muguet, wild strawberry, rose, jasmine, green moss, light amber and natural vanilla.
Diptyque makes a “Chevrefueille” candle.
Photo by Pat Borow, all rights reserved.