Shakespeare’s Rose ?

Old Velvet or Tuscany Rose from roguevalley roses.com

Old Velvet or Tuscany Rose from roguevalley roses.com

As a rose nut- enthusiast- I almost always notice when period films include modern roses.  You’ll see impeccable costumes and set decoration in a drama about Cromwell, or Henry the VIII but the roses are bright red hybrid teas that never existed before the twentieth century.  Although plenty of roses grew, they just didn’t radiate the harsh aniline dye color spectrum which breeders, maybe imitating twentieth century clothing, introduced to the flower garden.

Elizabethans actually had a full cast of roses strutting and fretting their brief hour in garden beds.  We know about them from Gerard’s Herbal, that very useful book written by a near contemporary of Shakepeare’s, John Gerard (1545-1611/12) who was in fact for a time a neighbor of Shakespeare’s, because Gerard was Master of the Barber Surgeon’s Company which was located in a hall nearly opposite Shakespeare’s lodgings in Mugwell (now Monkwell) Street from 1598-1604.  So he may well have seen Gerard’s garden and all the roses there. Continue reading

Beginning the Fragrance of Summer

Seeds from Monticello

Seeds from Monticello

We’ve just gotten our big wallop of a snowstorm and it’s the first of the season.  Among the other joys of snow: digging out your driveway, attempting to drive on uncleared streets, and other people’s frantic, over fast swerving around bends, “because it’s going to snow”,  I have one more calm and quiet one.  This is the weekend to start the seeds.

Every house has its micro climates and when it comes to plants I am rapidly learning the ones in this house.  The mud room is my cold frame, excellent for the white miniature rose and herbs, the family room is fine for potted plants and forced bulbs.  The front windows though may be ideal for starting seeds. Continue reading

Jasmine His, Jasmine Hers: Gandahara and Lace Garden

Head from Gandahara

Head from Gandahara

The idea that you can sequester perfumes by sex is sort of an odd one.  I admit though that given contemporary tastes and mores guys can’t spritz themselves silly with tuberose easily, and that gals while they can macerate themselves in pine oil and leather, tend to avoid those smells.  I’ve always felt though that the guys get kind of short shrift with flowers.  I don’t see why men can’t wear roses, or iris, or wisteria, or lilac, if they want to and not come off as whiffy and foppish.

Jasmine is a case in point.  The Queen of the Night ought  to be gender blind and unless she can see in the dark like my cat, probably is. Are there jasmines out there which would suit men?  I’m pleased to say that I’ve been wearing one today done by Neil Morris called Gandahara, and long story short, it’s complex, sophisticated, and a wonderful scent for a man who likes scent.  Here’s the thing, I could I suppose rattle off the notes but what I smell here is a strong bouquet that includes something like mimosa, musk, earth, and salt and then and only then, jasmine. I catch something fresh and green binding this fragrance together, possibly a tea or mint note.  The scents’ tendrils wrap around each other in an organic, lushly overgrown jungle of a perfume which would be perfect on a masculine skin. Continue reading

A Bite of Vanilla

Vanilla Table by Natasha MacAller

Vanilla Table
by Natasha MacAller

There’s almost nothing that vanilla doesn’t improve.  I’m in the habit of grinding up a tiny bit of vanilla bean with my medium coffee roasts to give a rounder softer cup.  It’s easy to do and  moderates acidity nicely in the brew.  This makes you understand why vanilla, even when you can’t actually detect it in a fragrance or on a plate, makes a big difference. Vanilla Table the cook book by Natasha MacAller reminded me of this quality.  Maybe vanilla isn’t my absolute favorite note in perfumes or food, but it is one one of them.  This book is a compendium of recipes contributed by chefs from around the world all of whom have chosen to work with vanilla.  Continue reading

The Carnations of Peace: Fleur de Feu, L’Air du Temps

The romantic Carnation

The romantic Carnation

Would carnation spring to your mind as the flower of peace?  It doesn’t to mine, either, but the fact remains that in 1948 the House of Nina Ricci released its most popular perfume ever, and the beginning of this delicate perfume is a spicy, airy, shower of carnations.

L’Air du Temps may have been your first perfume. Certainly it was mine.  I remember pestering my poor brother about the Dove bottle relentlessly one Christmas.  By then L’Air had been a classic for a few decades, and the bottle a romantic Lalique dream every girl wanted on her dresser. Continue reading

Green Lavender

Rosa viridiflora

Rosa viridiflora

Do you like green flowers?  They seem a bit peculiar it’s true, like the green rose, Rosa viridiflora which has sepals instead of petals and a rather specific peppery smell that is like its China rose cousins.  Still this peculiar little rose has a number of advantages. It grows very well and is a excellent subject for containers, rarely suffers from disease, and is even a long lasting cut flower. But would you want to smell it?  If someone came up with a perfume called “Green Rose” would you be interested or would you decide to stay far away? Continue reading

Flapper Winds

Cicada Bottle for Cigalia of Roger et Gallet 1911

Cicada Bottle for Cigalia of Roger et Gallet 1911

Once upon a time I knew that Tabac Blond was the first tobacco scent ever introduced to perfumery.  This turns out to be a canard. In fact it was the third.  The first was a perfume called either Cigalia or else Les Cigales by the old firm of Roger et Gallet, with a remarkably beautiful bottle done by who else but Lalique.  Here it is.  Lovely no?

You do end up finding out all sorts of odd things as time goes on, but the story of the first tobacco perfumes does not end with Cigalia.  In fact there was also a Coty perfume.  You knew there had to be one?  It seems that whenever anyone had any kind of new material or base or idea in the perfume world of the early twentieth century there was Francois Coty already set to market his version of whatever it happened to be.  As far as I can discover Coty introduced his tobacco perfume in 1912 inside a Baccarat bottle topped with a crystal cut stopper.  According to Edmond Roundnitska L’Or was in the air a lot in Continue reading

Ivy

ivy on the Walls at Yale Library

ivy on the Walls at Yale Library

If you’ve been to an Ivy League college or live near one, you’ll know what I mean.  Walls covered with ivy, ivy growing all over library walls and down dean’s offices. Ivy really can be ubiquitous.

The kind that climbs and creeps and is all through one of my front garden beds is Hedera helix aka English Ivy.  That stuff eels in everywhere, currently it has one pieris and two rhododendrons by the throat  and is threatening to throttle both of them.  I had to take the loppers to it, and then there was a fearsome battle with the ivy that had crept underneath the siding of the house and along the main electrical connection as well.  That involved careful use of the secateurs and a good deal of undignified tugging during which yours truly landed unceremoniously on her backside in the undergrowth not a few times.  When Ivy sets out to claim territory it does so for keeps. Continue reading

Malta 1565 – Blood, Sweat, and Cumin

MaltaMy Hub has written a book about renaissance Malta, and since it is coming out this week, he looked at me and said, “Can you write a post about Malta?”

Of course I was willing to write a post about Malta, but since I write about smelling and gardening for smells, I needed some whiff, or huff, or some sort of olfactory in for me to write about.

The Hub’s book deals with some fairly hair-raising events which occurred 450 years ago (The Great Siege of Malta: The Epic Battle between the Ottoman Empire and the Knights of St John, Bruce Ware Allen, Fore Edge Books, there it is!), but not so much with agriculture on Malta. The island has traditionally been a source for world class honey (the Greeks referred to Malta as Melite, “honey sweet”), which would suggest a rich lode of blooming flowers – but for whatever reason, this has not translated into perfumery as it has in, say, Grasse.

The one unquestionable perfume contribution of Malta, however, is cumin.

Continue reading

The Decadent Datura

Datura metel in bloom

Datura metel in bloom

Poisonous plants are an unhealthy draw.  Oleanders and Daturas are high on my list of flowers to be grown with caution. They’re death to the cat if she’s foolish enough to gnaw at the branches, but my cat is a wise cat, and has become an indoor cat since we moved, which seems to be ok by her.  I think I can grow Datura next summer, and say, isn’t Datura that old Jimson Weed  we grew up regarding as nothing in particular?  Well, actually yes, yes it is, and liable to seed itself as far North as Boston. What I wonder is so exclusive and delicate about that?

I think of Jimson as being a Mark Twain plant, something to lay hold of at midnight and conjure to rid you of warts, kind of like spunk water. The reason most people grow the Jimson Weed is for its large downward facing trumpet flowers and their scent which is very strong particularly after sunset.  They are real vespertine garden plants, releasing their narcotic perfume after dark and while some

Datura in bloom.

Datura in bloom.

people find it a soapy scent others liken it to the smell of lilies, the plants that fester worse than weeds according to Shakespeare. One has to wonder what he would have thought of Daturas? He probably didn’t know them as they are native to Cuba Continue reading