There’s an anecdote going back to the end of the sixteenth century that someone wanted to present Elizabeth I with a beautifully bound book, and to finish off the attractions of that volume they were going to perfume the binding with oil of lavender. Big mistake the giver was told by courtiers in the know, for “Her Majesty could not abide such a strong scent.” She sounds like a modern perfumista to me.
Actually I enjoy lavender and such great classic perfumes as Maja and Moment Supreme are largely based on the scent, not to mention Jicky, still many modern perfume enthusiasts don’t care for it. But what if the flower smell of lavender could be amplified, and the herbal side muffled?
Turns out you can do this perfectly naturally. There are a number of cultivars of lavandula that bloom white or pale pink and have a much milder, more floral fragrance than their populous purple cousins. The hard part, and there always seems to be one, is that they’re just not widely available in the US. We have poor old Jean Davis a “white” that blooms pale pink and which is a great deal less hardy than most of the purple people eaters. One cold winter in zone seven or North will kill off Jean, and I should know because that is what happened to my little bush since I last looked into this subject.
The scent however was a great deal subtler than what you get in the purple varieties. I still grow great big bushes of lavender, dry the flowers out for sachets, and turn them into lavender vinegar, and all that sort of thing, but have had no success in finding some of those wonderful British varieties like Cathy Blanc or White Spike, that appear to send up miniature ivory towers over UK garden beds. Since I want to grow a few dreaming spires of my own, I’m quite envious.
In perfume white lavender seems to be very rarely used. I have only seen the note once in a scent made by Strange Invisible Perfumes, Fire and Cream I believe, and they use local materials so must have much more success with the non hardy lavenders in California than we do in New Jersey. This computes but why oh why, can’t we import some of these pure white lavenders to the States?
In the end, when it comes to smells, some of the very best do not come bottled, but have to be huffed momentarily on breezes, and fortunately for us, they can be whiffed for several months out of a year, only here in the US we still rely on really limited stocks of domesticated plants, and many gardeners don’t take fragrance into account at all when planning a garden bed.
This will amount to one of those wild goose chases for me, all the more annoying because I know perfectly well that lavenders don’t breed true from seed. You have to take cuttings. Grrr. Someone must stock a true white lavender here! Meanwhile if you- like me- enjoy a milder lavender scent and love white mists floating above your perennials, here in the illustrations are some of what’s available.