Confederate Jasmine and Garbage

Current Roman Garbage

Current Roman Garbage

Rome has a problem with garbage.  I used to live there quite a long time ago and recall that the garbage problem existed back then too-from time to  time.  It’s nothing like this though.  Garbage piles up even in the more famous locales like Piazza del Popolo where the tourists collect every day, sit on the lions surrounding the obelisk fountain, and  leave behind plastic water bottles and candy wrappers…

The Romans are mortified.  Worse, they can’t seem to strike a deal with the sanitation people, who show up in snazzy jump suits in the civil colors of Rome: orange and  dark crimson, driving the smallest and most stylish garbage trucks ever seen, but they never seem to pick up more than a sack or two of garbage (well OK that’s about what they can fit in those adorable trucks) but this leaves behind la maggioranza of the problema on the sidewalks. Continue reading

The Glamorous Scent of Peonies

Festiva Maxima from hiddenhillsgardens.comf

Festiva Maxima from hiddenhillsgardens.comf

In the heart of the big white peony known as Festiva Maxima there’s a very subtle scent.  You simply poke your nose in among the petals and you get many fragrances rolled together in the circumference of a single flower.  This is ready made perfume, perfection and not so many other plants produce fragrance so rounded and so complete.  Festiva Maxima does though.  I can only think of the Silk Tree as competition for another fine female fragrance finished down to the last molecules; an entirety of organic perfume.

Pink peonies have a similarly sophisticated scent but it’s  just a bit more pronounced and carries further.  Pink peonies have a sillage, and one of my  Mother’s dogs used to adore their perfume.  She was the only dog I ever knew who would literally go and smell the flowers.  A German Shepherd labrador mix, she had an acute nose, but a delicate, almost feminine sense of what smelled respectively good or bad, peonies were her clear favorites.  She never was too much into my dog’s preferred scent Eau de Dead Squirrel. Continue reading

Rose in the Round

Winchester Cathedral photo our own

Winchester Cathedral photo our own

My roses have begun to be acclimated to the new garden and one has bloomed.  It is such a pretty thing and the scent is so different from what rises out of perfume bottles that I am  compelled to write about rose fragrances and how often they seem to go wrong when transplanted to human skin.

The rose in these pictures is David Austin’s Winchester Cathedral a white sport (A spontaneous change in flower, appearing on an established variety.  It’s an odd term I know.)  from his well known Mary Rose.  Winchester has a smell that is not at all like what wafts from perfume counters. Continue reading

Pepper Flowers: Ofresia, Gardenia, Perfectly Marvelous

Black and White peppercorns

Black and White peppercorns

This is the sort of idea that tends to put people off.  It’s already pollen season in the Northeast, and I’m hearing a great deal of sneezing going on all around me, but the fact remains that an irritant is part of the charm of floral fragrances.  Possibly there should be something, just a little something, abrasive in all that prettiness.

Some perfumers have had the same idea, and that’s why there is a small sub genre of floral perfumes that feature pepper in a prominent position of the formula.  I can’t say the trick is a new one,  Chanel’s Gardenia contained pimento back in the 1990’s in its heart along with clove and sage, this followed a lavishly floral beginning crowded with orange blossom, jasmine and tuberose.  This gave Gardenia a piquancy that was maybe missing from some of its later iterations.  Anyway that touch of pepper showed that white florals did not have to be banal. Continue reading

No Green Beans

Green Vanilla beans from pinteres

Green Vanilla beans from pinteres

There are times when being green is not a good thing.  Take for instance Madagascar vanilla beans.  The island is the premier producer of vanilla beans world wide( just after Indonesia)* but has had troubles recently with the quantity of its beans and also with the quality.  Although you can buy vanilla from other sources such as Indonesia and Mexico, the quality of the beans has consistently not been perceived as being as high as the Madagascan vanilla.  That could be changing though.

The salient point here is that vanilla pods need to ripen before they are marketed.   When they are green they are not saleable. The vanilla pods have to turn that tarry black before they are ready.  Nowadays though some traders are harvesting the beans while they are still green and vacuum packing them, like off season sweaters, then opening the vacuum packed beans when the price of vanilla has risen enough to make their sale highly profitable. Continue reading

Sweet Peas and Failure

King High Scent Sweet Peas

King High Scent Sweet Peas

St Patrick’s Day used to be the traditional day for starting sweet peas (indeed any kind of peas according to Bill Harris founder of White Flower Farm) in the upper forty eight states.  It was a simple procedure, you dug a trench about three inches deep or so, maybe worked in a little compost or manure, stuck pea poles in at intervals along your furrow and then waited for the little vines to hoist themselves up and bind themselves to the sticks with their tendrils. Continue reading

The Lavender Bears’ Picnic

Bobbie bear in plush toy form

Bobbie bear in plush toy form

If you go down to the woods today you’d better not go alone…especially not in China where you might be witnessing one of the biggest bear jamborees on earth.  It seems that a fad of huge proportions was born this past year.  The Bridestowe Lavender Estate in Tasmania had been selling only the occasional Bobbie Bear in lavender plush stuffed with dried lavender, ten a month or so up until 2013, when a Chinese actress posted a picture of herself with Bobbie on social media.  Bobbie was, according to Zhang Xinhu, the perfect companion on a cold night in Shanghai.

After that, Bobbies began selling like crazy, up to 4 thousand a month and Bridestowe was at the limits of its  lavender production.  That was when their problems really began. Continue reading

Daffodils on the Wind

Daffodils in full bloom

Daffodils in full bloom

February is about to turn into March, it makes me think that I should clean out all my wardrobes, take the coats to the dry cleaners, wash the sweaters, and clean out the perfume closet because one day soon incense will make me recoil.  Does everyone wear perfume seasonally?  I always have, partially because everywhere I have lived there have been sequential seasons, and it was difficult to ignore their cold and heat, and wear the same thing.  You could stock a rudimentary scent wardrobe by selecting one scent for summer and one for winter, but even that strained the Spring and Fall dichotomy.  Unsettled weather, weather that changes from day to day, is hard to plan for and hard to choose for, your old favorites are too stuffy and warm or too evanescent and light.   What can you wear in between perfume seasons? Continue reading

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