Japanese Roses

Rosa rugosa "Agnes"

Rosa rugosa “Agnes”

Do you like Japanese gardens?  You know, those serene landscapes with raked pebbles and a single maple tree pruned into perfect profile in the middle?

I do. They’re marvels of restraint, which I’m not, but tranquility is a major hallmark of the Japanese style and desirable in a harried world.

All of which is not to say that I can actually manage to pull off a Japanese garden here in Connecticut since, for a start, I’m not Japanese; but I can have a stab at growing a number of Japanese plants.  All except roses, I read, because according to at least one major garden designer who shall remain nameless, roses play no part in Japanese gardening.

Really? News to me, because I  could not help thinking of rugosas which are native to the Korean peninsula and also to some islands of Japan and parts of China.  I plan to plant rugosas. They’re Japanese enough for Connecticut.   Indeed, the “sea tomato” is a fine plant for anyone who lives near the ocean and has to contend with light soils and  heavy winds.

In our case there is also a sandy pine shaded bank, always covered with needles, facing the house which looks to

Rosa rugosa "Alba' from rhs.com.uk

Rosa rugosa “Alba’ from rhs.com.uk

me as if it were contemplating an erosive expedition into my living room soon.  We need shrubs which will put down roots in such a place and runners too. But since this bank is at twelve o’clock of the front door and picture windows, I also need attractive foliage, delicate colors, and maybe two or three seasons of interest.

In short, I need something that will grip that loose soil and hold on for dear life, no matter how much sand or salt our local municipality decides to dump on the road next to them and look good in the process.

You can see how I might come to the conclusion that rugosas were the plants for this job.  Left to my own devices I’d stick with alba. It’s just about perfect.  No diseases, beautiful leaves (I have grown rugosas for the leaves alone) big flowers for species 14May_mwnews_4-B2roses, gorgeous round hips just like tomatoes, only prettier, and the fall color is wonderful. If you are fond of those incendiary color combinations, rugosas contribute generously to the effect.

Plus they have the perfect rose scent.  I know there are people who will say that only tea roses, or musk roses have that, but there are so many rose perfumes that which one you prefer becomes a matter of personal choice.  No doubt this is why I bossily endorse rugosa perfume as the best, but you might prefer damasks with their classic rose scent, or those yellow roses which smell of licorice or lemon.

Rugosa hips in fall

Rugosa hips in fall

Rugosas’ perfume is a compromise between the fragrance of carnations, nutmegs, cold cream, and rose.  There is nothing else quite like it.  Sometimes when I read on a board that someone has smelled a fragrance and that the experience was “perfumey”, meaning they smelled powder, galbanum or aldehydes, I’m pretty sure they don’t garden, because the longer you do, the more fine fragrance comes back at you, radiating from opened roses, lilies or clematis, to say nothing of native azaleas (which are widely supposed not to smell at all). Nope the natural world is, it turns out, the working model for lots of things in bottles. Cold cream and spice along with rose in rugosas is the least of it.

What’s your favorite rose perfume, living or bottled?

Golconda and the Scent of Rugosas

The Darya e Noor Diamond

The Darya e Noor Diamond

Once the name Golconda was associated with only one thing: pink diamonds.  At the end  of the 17th century during the great age of the Mughal Empire in India Golconda was mined out and the sparkling vein of rose petal diamonds dried up.

Golconda is also the first of the Joel Arthur  Rosenthal fragrances, and if you have never heard of him, that may be because you are not a jewelry collector of very high net worth. Also you missed the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s retrospective of JAR jewelry which I curse myself for missing, because the pieces are so  lovely that seeing them just makes your day. Continue reading

The Tidal Wave of Pollen Known as Spring

Bee and Pollen

Bee and Pollen

Spring this year is unusually pollen heavy, everywhere I go in New Jersey people have watery eyes and running noses.  My Hub is apparently in competition for the greatest number of recorded sneezes during any twenty four hour period, and even the check out people at Shop Rite can barely see out of their swollen eyes.

What is causing all this misery? Pollen, pure and simple, but also remarkably plentiful this year.  Our car is covered in a powdery chartreuse veil of the stuff.  I can’t help  but wonder, how many more floral smells can we actually endure? Continue reading

Reconsidering Smells

Christmas tree cauliflower

Christmas tree cauliflower

There are some smells that all of us have a visceral dislike of, some people hate boxwood with its pungent slightly cat pee odor.  Others love it and have all sorts of happily associated memories of parks, gardens and playgrounds triggered by boxwood.  Eau Illuminee from Parfums Delrae is said to feature boxwood as part of the sensory landscape of San Francisco. Then again some people love the scent of cumin while for others cumin (especially detectable in  the revamped Femme from Rochas or old Alpona from Caron) can put off a lot of people who only smell sweat and stale takeaway curries. Even roses can be controversial, although most of us love them. Anne of Austria (Louis the XIV’s Mum) so hated them that reportedly she couldn’t stand to see a rose in a painting and who knows what happened when she spotted one in a vase…* Continue reading

Tuberoses for a Founding Father

Thomas Jefferson at the age when he was experimenting most in the garden at Monicello

Thomas Jefferson at the age when he was experimenting most in the garden at Monicello

Ever wonder what were the favorite scents of historical figures?  In the case of Thomas Jefferson we know one of his: the Mexican tuberose.  Jefferson was a gardener when he was not writing the Declaration of Independence or being president.  Monticello was a sort of test garden for all sorts of plants and flowers that Jefferson had admired abroad, or that he thought might be useful or simply ornamental, in American horticulture.  One such discovery for him was the tuberose.

He kept a diary which is how we know about his tastes and what he ordered.  Like anybody else who gardens, he loved to look at plant lists from nurseries and dream of where he could tuck this or that little rarity into the spaces he had open. Continue reading

Gardenia 911

How many gardenias fall into the cold cream vat?

How many gardenias fall into the cold cream vat?

Gardenias are said to be the perfumer’s best bet at capturing the US feminine market.  We in the Sates love our gardenias, and if you can just concoct us a good one, we’re your customers forever.

There’s some truth to the rumor. All sorts of niche perfume companies have tried to crack open the American feminine market with gardenias, but only Annick Goutal succeeded with Gardenia Passion*, and such venerable houses as Guerlain have struck out with non-gardenia gardenias such as Cruel Gardenia.  C’est la Vie. Continue reading

Tit for Tat: Lavender Soliflores Disappear

La Liz was her secret violet eyes or lavnder oil?

La Liz was her secret violet eyes or lavnder oil?

You may have noticed the disappearance of lavender soliflores.  In fact you may have noticed the disappearance of lavender essential oil from perfumes and soaps and other such products with some vague fake floralcy substituted for lavender.  Why has this happened?

The explanation may be related to the findings  in 2006 of Derek Henley and Edward Reiter of the National Institute of Environmental Health and Science concerning the strange cases of five young boys and “idiopathic prepubertal gynecomastia”.  Translated into the demotic, these five boys had begun to sprout breasts when using otc tea tree and lavender oil containing soaps and shampoos. The effect went away when the boys changed products.

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Trumpeting Florals: Lilies

Bouquet from The metropolitan Museum of Art

Bouquet from The metropolitan Museum of Art

Big honking lilies and not those tiny little lilies of the valley, that’s what I’m referencing.  They’re not shy and they’re really not understated either, but the big lily’s smell can be beautiful.

They can also be great big honking hits with the public. Consider that billboard sized lily Cacharel’s, Anais-Anais.  Cacharel let Anais-Anais loose on unsuspecting mortals in 1978 and the beginning was a  heavenly whirlwind of florals: White Madonna Lily, black currant, hyacinth, lily of the valley, then a midsection crammed with even more flowers and woods.  Everything was stuffed inside Anais -Anais’s delicate skin, jasmine, Grasse rose, iris, ylang-ylang, orange blossom, vetiver cedarwood, oakmoss, patchouli, finally an almost apologetic ending trailing behind this monumental arrangement, a few leather streamers and a tiny bit of musk as though Anais had stepped out of one fragile leather slipper and left it behind. Continue reading

The Scent You Mistook for a Rose: Geranium

Scented geranium in bloom

Scented geranium in bloom

We all thought her name was Rose, how wrong we were.  This confusion tipifiys the history of the geranium ( or beg pardon once again, Pelargonium to give the plant its true name) in perfumery.  The pelargoniums are experts in the art of scent mimicry.   You find pelargoniums that smell like fruits, spices, herbs, mints, even coconut.  Their range is astounding and all  of this from their leaves alone.

The eldest -at least in Europe- is Pelargonium capitatum or the rose geranium which besides smelling like roses is also edible (the whole clan is edible) and was once used to wrap up freshly churned butter. Continue reading

Sunshine on a Branch: Mimosa

mimosas in full bloom

mimosas in full bloom

You know who you are: fellow mimosa maniacs.  You wish you were on the Riviera in spring just in order to bury your nose in the bouquets of mimosas which are everywhere  there in March.  This is the month when you miss the flower markets of France and Italy the most, when there’s nothing at US supermarkets but green dyed carnations. They just don’t cut it for us.

Of course there’s always a bottle to take the place of the real thing, and with mimosa you are luckier than with most other flowers because there is an extract and you can smell the real thing rather than a reconstruction.  Acacia is the proper name for the yellow flowering mimosas or wattles- their Australian moniker- because these trees are native there.  Here in the US most of us know Acacia dealbata or Acacia baileyana both of which are fragrant. I find that the terms acacia and mimosa are batted about interchangeably in a confusing way, but from a horticultural standpoint, acacias are mimosas. *

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