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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The Fragrance of Water: Lotus and Waterlillies

Lotus in bloom

Lotus in bloom

Nelembo nucifera has got a wonderful perfume all by itself.  The lotus produces an extract that is sweet and strong with a sort of hay or grassy facet.  If you’ve never smelled it, this extract is surprising because there is none of that watery quality you might have been expecting, instead you encounter a scent that is part flower, part grass, and finally something faintly like tobacco.  The lotus is unexpected.

The waterlilies on the other hand only sometimes have a scent and when they do the scent can vary.  Nymphaea odorata has been described as smelling of vanilla, fruit, or lilies of the valley.  Long years ago my mother grew some in a whiskey barrel which we hauled into her pond.  They must have been tender day bloomers,  and though I remember that they were scented, I don’t any longer recall the particular perfume. Continue reading

The Unfamiliar Scent of Tulips

Tulip Bellona, from homeguides.sfgate.com

Tulip Bellona,
from homeguides.sfgate.com

Many people profess to smell no scent in tulips.  I have to disagree. Tulips have always been in our gardens except here where squirrel activity is at an all time high.  I have discovered the hard way that squirrels simply love to excavate them.  This is how I lost a stand of late flowering white double flowered ones and have not had the heart to try again.  That redoubtable huntress the cat antagonized several of my little foes, but that only held back the squirrel invasion for a month..

Anyway the scent of tulips is one of their more overlooked pleasures, and most of the time you get that scent from the species tulips. Continue reading

The Pure Purple Faith: Lilacs

Tissot  Lilacs from 1875

Tissot Lilacs from 1875

In just a few weeks we will have lilacs again.  Looking out of the front window at half a foot of snow on the ground that is hard to believe, but true.  Lilacs populate the end of April here and have usually concluded their life cycle by the end of May.  They are lovable flowers though it’s hard to say why.  The bushes are tall, often flowering on hard to reach tips, are therefore hard to prune, sucker, get powdery mildew, and if you don’t dead head them the seed heads remain on the bush like dessicated shrunken heads.

When we lived in Vermont we had half a dozen bushes on the property most of them enormous old things probably grown from suckers that came from neighboring gardens.  One of them was fifteen feet tall and had a wide circumference that I dreaded during mowing season.  The scent of lilacs in full bloom when there are hundreds of panicles all at once is dizzying,it made me trudge around the bush with the push mower like a narcolept. Continue reading

The Simple Complexity of Honeysuckle

Bush honeysuckle

Bush honeysuckle

Lonicera is the proper surname of of honeysuckle, but no matter which name you happen to call this vine you can’t mistake the scent. It’s frankly one of my favorite fragrances  on earth, and commonly found growing in enormous mounds at the seashore, a gorgeous, white floral fragrance with a fruit undertone from a plant that is sometimes not much more than a garden nuisance.

Surprisingly though honeysuckle isn’t that easy to interpret as a fragrance. You would think  it would be a very simple exercise for perfumers, but that seems not to be the case. Continue reading

The Flower Connection : Soliflores

Honeysuckles from flowerinfo.org

Honeysuckles from flowerinfo.org

Should a human smell like a flower?  My answer to this is that women in particular, but sometimes also men, have endeavored to smell just like flowers for centuries. Well bred women were recommended to steer away from bouquet perfumes in the past, especially those which were too expansive. Also the scent of certain flowers such as tuberose were considered too risque for the young or the innocent.

The Countess Bradi who wrote an etiquette book in the 19th century writes,” I forbid you to use manufactured perfumes, however I consider those diffused by natural flowers to be perfectly permissible…” So for women floral perfumes were fine once upon a time, but  more than a hundred years later Luca Turin was wondering why any woman would want to smell like a flower?  The answer is that flowers smell wonderful and we would like to as well.  Also, there are times when complicated perfumes, ones with olfactory twists and turns and blind alleys are like  mazes, and on certain days we would prefer not to have to thread our way through them.  Simplicity gets you from point a to point b directly and that can have a charm of its own. Continue reading

Scent for the Skin You’re In

Renoir Nude

Renoir Nude

Changing perfumes a lot is the bane of the fume obsessed.  We all do it.  If you are in the business of reviewing on a regular basis you’re more or less required to change perfumes in order to write about the next one, and after a while all this can get dizzying.

What’s my smell you ask yourself, and you may even miss the old days when your signature smell was No19 or Chant d’Aromes or Stella, or whatever it may happen to have been.  Sometimes you want to bridge that gap between the old perfume and a new one and make that transition without all the usual rejection problems you get with unfamiliar scent. Continue reading

Winter Weary Fragrance

Christmas roses from mybotanicalgarden.com

Christmas roses from mybotanicalgarden.com

Last year I went through all of January and most of February in white florals.  I simply couldn’t stand another minute of coldness or snowiness, or thought so and spritzed accordingly.  Along about the middle of February doesn’t everyone think so- unless they are in Australia?

This season I was not so careful.  Now the cold and the doldrums of late winter have caught up  with a vengeance.  I can’t face another drop of incense or one more amber perfume till next fall-what to choose? Continue reading

The Ominous Valentine

 from bonniemohr.com

from bonniemohr.com

Strange to say, especially ahead of Valentine’s Day, I am not a chocoholic.  That craving is so widespread that it is hardly worth asking people if they like chocolate any more-almost everybody does.

I can take or leave most chocolate, however one place where I do actually like the component is in perfume, partially because chocolate introduces heavy notes so well, and brings floral formulas back to earth.  Some chocolate notes go further still becoming the harbingers of shadowy exoticism, even the macabre.  One of my recent purchases celebrates the chocolate note in  just such a sinister way. Continue reading

Bad Luck Perfume ?

Black cat superstition in action

Black cat superstition in action

Irrationality is at the core of humanity, just like a pit in an avocado. Superstition is part and parcel of this and while I like to think of myself as not being superstitious nevertheless I am.

Case in point being the “unlucky perfume”, there are some I give a wide berth to because something bad occurred every time I wore them.  Ridiculous right?  But true.

I have never been able to wear Narcisse Noir and the reason isn’t even something that happened to me but that I happened to read Black Narcissus.  Unlucky just to read about a nun going off a parapet you know.  Besides there’s the whole superstitious aura surrounding nuns there.  Then a screening of Sunset Boulevard finished me off entirely.  Narcisse Noir scared me and when I actually smelled it, that perfume spooked me.  I just don’t wear NN  as a precaution. Continue reading