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seasonal sensory association

June 30, 2009

so this week i’ve been housesitting for my editor. one of the things i’m supposed to take care of is watering her husband’s tomato plants. and so i was standing out on the deck last night in the summer twilight, spraying them down, and they gave off that scent. anyone who’s ever grown tomatoes knows what i mean; they give off a very specific scent when you water them down. they don’t exactly smell good, like flowers would, but i like the smell. it’s another one of those sensory perceptions that just screams “summer” to me. 

when i was a kid, my mom occasionally dabbled in gardening. my mother is terrible with flowers (as am i), but she could sometimes succeed with vegetables. tomatoes were her most successful crop, although the green beans we grew one year were hilariously abundant. during the time of her most successful gardening endeavors, we lived in a small duplex on South F Street, a shady residential street in the old part of town. our street was lined with extremely productive walnut trees, and most of our neighbors had gardens. in the summer, we’d all trade produce: strawberries from one family, enormous zucchinis from another (my mom would split these and broil them with parmesan cheese; so good). so the warm, soil-y smell of damp tomato plants reminds me of summers spent in the back yard watching my mother obsess over our little 6-foot garden patch, of fresh vegetables, of my family desperately giving green beans to everyone we knew. 

(side note: the opposing scent to the happy-summer-damp-tomato scent is that broccoli in the field. the church i went to as a child was across the street from a broccoli field, so i’m well acquainted with the smell, which is bad. smells like manure and soil. it’s very distinctive, to the point where a friend and i, while driving down the 101 in the bay area one day, both inhaled deeply, turned to each other, and said “broccoli? do you smell broccoli? how is that possible, we’re on a freeway!” and yet it could not have been anything else.)

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One comment

  1. AG High School is (or at least, was) across the road from many a broccoli field. The scent coming off them post-harvest is absolutely wretched.

    I’ve been enjoying the scent of my tomato plants this summer as well; I have no such associations but I’m remarkably enjoying the process of growing my own vegetables – flowers really have nothing on seeing actual food coming to life before your eyes!



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