Monday, 28 May 2012

Sniffing Through A Glass Darkly: Failing A Bonkers Herb Garden Challenge

I have been called many things in my time: there was the disgruntled reader who dubbed me "God's mistake", and the ex-boyfriend who exclaimed in frustration, as I failed to grasp the operation of his camera: "You haven't got a brain, you've just got a memory!" Yes, down the years most of my personality traits and abilitiies have been called into question, from my imagination to my sense of spatial awareness to my very sanity. Yet for some reason no one has yet cast aspersions on my nasal prowess (or not publicly, or that I have noticed! : - ) ). And this despite my presuming to be a perfume blogger with only the sketchiest of abilities when it comes to picking out individual notes in scents. I offer a pretty impressionistic idea of how a fragrance smells, yet hopefully add another random object to the overall "collage" of perfume reviews in the blogosphere.

And then today my friend Gillie set me what turned out to be a fiendish fragrant challenge. She gave me a birthday present wrapped in stiff white paper and placed in a white gauze bag - between the paper and the bag she had inserted a selection of leaves from different herbs and asked me to identify them blind. Well, not even blind in fact, for if I recognised the look of any of them that was of course another way of skinning the cat, albeit slightly cheating in what was billed as a sniffing test.


So without further ado, here are the woeful results of my scented guesswork.


SAGE - I had no clue

LEMON BALM - I also had no clue, though it smelt a bit lemony after Gillie had revealed what it was; this may be significant ie as further confirmation of my shamelessly suggestible schnoz.

LAVENDER - I said OREGANO (for goodness' sake!)


PARSLEY - I recognised it by eye, haha.

CORIANDER - As above!

LEMON-SCENTED GERANIUM - I had no clue again.

THYME - Gillie blurted out the answer by accident. : - )

MINT - As above (though I feel sure I would have got this one right of my own accord!)


So in summary, out of seven herbs where I was not in fact alerted to the answer before I could pit my finely blunted wits against the question, I got a derisory TWO correct, and those only because I knew what they looked like, and didn't even get as far as smelling them.

In my defence, Gillie said I should have crushed a few of the leaves more vigorously in my fingers, as that would have given off more of an aroma, and me a better clue. And as inept as my nose patently is - and my culinary skills, by association! - I did discover some great new smells, notably lemon-scented geranium and lemon balm. Gillie assures me that lemon-scented geranium in particular is therapeutic for people undergoing any kind of trauma. Possibly also including this very confirmation that I am a perfume blogger without portfolio, or two nasal receptors to rub together, say!

Finally, here is a picture of Gillie relaxing in the garden, and posing with the submarine battery glass to which my nose is pressed in the photo at the top of the post. Yes, forget water features and architectural lighting, patio heaters or a barbecue tastefully screened by a thicket of pampas grass, a submarine battery glass is the must-have garden accessory for summer 2012.


Anonymous said...

Reading between the lines:

A) Happy Birthday Vanessa!

B) You know and have known some "interesting" people in your time! (That ex-boyfriend would have had a camera in an "interesting" place if he'd vented his spleen on me in that way, and a photo of his spleen might well have been a un-looked for bonus.)

Nay, nay, Vanessa: if you don't cultivate or cook with herbs, why should you be familiar with them?

Clearly it was kindness on your part not to crush or scrunch 'em up, poor little green bits and bobs that they were. Refraining from inflicting violence on them shows the goodness of your heart!

No, have no truck with any slurs on your fine nasal receptors.

I agree about lemon-scented geranium and lemon balm being lovely, with the additional bonus that they are happy in pots *and* quick to revive when they've been neglected by careless gardeners:-)

Now, are submarine battery glasses readily obtainable?

cheerio, Anna in Edinburgh

Anonymous said...

Happy Birthday, Vanessa!

My first thought here was what a thoughtful and creative friend to make a wrapping designed to appeal to your sense of smell, your fascination with fragrance. It was like a gift around a gift.

As for not guessing correctly, no worries! It was to be fun. I'm afraid of how many scents in my own FB collection that I'd not be able to identify blindly from a paper strip. Now that would be a good exam, and very revealing. If I didn't score a pass, would I have to stop sampling, and stick with the ones I own until I knew them better? Ha! Not likely.

Part of the fun is the experience. I hope you had fun sniffing herbs (suddenly that sounds odd), and that you have a wonderful birthday. May it be an amazing new year full of joy and laughter. Be well.

Vanessa said...

Hi Anna,

Thanks for the birthday wishes (you inferred right ; - ) ) and your entertaining comment.

That remark by my ex, which we both remembered years later, struck me as so absurd at the time that immediately after he said it I burst out laughing and managed to defuse the situation. Which was unusual!

Thank you for excusing my lack of herb awareness. There was some mint in my pudding tonight, and I have borne it carefully home in a napkin to study at my leisure.

And you could almost tempt me to try growing easy care fragrant herbs, for I was very taken with the two lemony ones.

I could be wrong, but I imagine submarine battery glasses may be obtained at a ships chandlers, or their submarine-specific equivalent? : - ) I have been down inside a submarine once - the SS Leopard, moored in Minorca. I don't remember the battery glasses specifically, but I was very conscious of my sundress and the vertical ladder.

Vanessa said...

Hi HemlockSillage,

Nice to hear from you! And you are absolutely right - the herb-themed packaging was very thoughtful and a gift in itself. Gillie is a singer songwriter who is very creative generally (pottery, stained glass, felt, weaving, calligraphy, beguilingly strange Christmas decorations fashioned from random objects etc) and most of her gifts involve some level of intrigue...

And yes, it is tough sniffing in a vacuum, and maybe I shouldn't be too hard on myself for my inability to identify these common or garden herbs - and I did indeed have a blast trying!

Olfacta said...

Hello V -- Not to worry dearest, note-identifying is not nearly as important as ability to write and you certainly have that! And besides, lots of herbs smell alike. Interesting to note that lemon balm is on the IFRA's suspect list, or was when I last checked. It's really from the huge mint family. Anything with a "square" stem (basil too) is in that family. And I think there are at least 20 common varieties of thyme, some of which smell like caraway, citrus, etc.

Vanessa said...

Hi Olfacta,

Why thank you for exonerating my nose in this matter! And how interesting about poor lemon balm and funny that I should have been particularly drawn to it.

I "had no clue" either about all those species of thyme. And feel so much better now I know.

: - )

Ines said...

OK, I didn't realize it was your birthday. :(
But, still, I'm wishing you all the best for your birthday! :)

And now I just have to say this - you couldn't guess it was lavender?!? :)

Vanessa said...

Hi Ines,

Thanks for the birthday wishes!

Getting lavender wrong sounds crazy, I know, especially as I don't even *like* the scent of the stuff, but even now that I know what it is, its lavenderish smell is not very distinct. And maybe I was expecting it to be a silvery mauve colour, hehe, and therefore wrongly attributed its greenness to oregano.

Anonymous said...

Funny post! :)
I'm totally with Anna, how would you know the herbs if you never use them? One does need a frame of reference after all, no nose inherently knows what is what!
Being no cook and no gardener myself, I completely sympathize.

Vanessa said...

Hi Olfactoria,

Thanks for endorsing Anna's view. "Frame of reference", that's the very phrase for what I was lacking in this test. I will tuck that one away for use on a future occasion. : - )

And it is nice to know that not everyone is handy with a trowel or a wooden spoon!

Tara said...

What a great idea! I don't think I'd have done any better without crushing the herbs to pieces. I also think the way you write about perfume is much better - and more entertaining - than focusing on picking out individual notes. That's not how most of us smell perfume anyway.

What a fun and imaginative friend you have in Gillie!

Vanessa said...

Hi tara,

Yes, I think I would have had a better chance of identifying things had I released their aroma molecules by crushing them to bits!

Thanks for your kind comment about my approach to reviewing perfumes. It is good to know that I am not the only one who smells perfume in a more impressionistic way, but I do admire people who can deconstruct scents in a more detailed way.

And it is true that Gillie is very creative and practical - she can turn her hand to most things, indeed - as witnessed by our lawn laying afternoon earlier this year!

Mrs. Scents said...

Great post - what an awesome and thoughtful gift from your friend! I love exercising the nose with fresh herbs (although I don't always get them right, either!). Your post's reminded me that I haven't done it in awhile and probably should. I'll let you know how I do ;-) PS - Happy birthday!

Vanessa said...

Hi Mrs Scents,

Thanks for stopping by! My friend is very "crafty" with her gifts - in every sense of the term. Which reminds me, Gillie gave me a soap making kit for Christmas and promised to help me knock up a batch incorporating a favourite fragrance. She knows I might consider that a bit too technical to undertake on my own. : - )

Thanks for the birthday greetings, and I would be interested to learn how your own herbal sniff-off goes!

Undina said...

What a fun gift/challenge! Your friend is great!

I'm not surprised you didn't identify those herbs: as Birgit said above, one needs a frame of reference.

I have a complaint though: your pictures are too small! They are perfectly fine for illustration purposes in text but it would be great if they were bigger once you clicked on them. I so wanted to play the game! :)

Vanessa said...

Hi Undina,

Glad you agree with the others about the difficulty of guessing in a vacuum (well, assuming I didn't recognise the look of the herbs in question, which I mostly didn't).

Now that is odd about the pictures because I know in the past they have enlarged okay when you click on them. The difference could be whatever size they come up on my iPhone vs my normal digital camera that I used to take snaps with. Will see if I can upload a bigger resolution of the herbs as an experiment. If you see no difference, it didn't work!

Undina said...

It's not a resolution that matters in this case but rather the size ;) I mean, in pixels. And iPhone makes pictures big enough to feel a screen. How do you re-size them? You can answer me in the e-mail and I might be able to guide you.

L said...

Happy belated birthday! I hope it was a good one.

I shudder to think how I would have done on this challenge. However, I should be improving as we have quite an herb garden growing at the moment.

Vanessa said...

Hi L,

Thanks for the birthday wishes - I had a lovely time, thanks.

Your herb garden sounds excellent and I wish you much fun with that - also in your learning curve as you get to grips with all the different species!

Vanessa said...

Hi Undina,

I am not very pixel-aware, it must be said. I will carry on this conversation in an email and together we may get to the bottom of it!

Cheryl Quimby said...

What a clever birthday gift!
Wishing you a belated happy birthday!

Vanessa said...

Hi Cheryl,

Thanks very much! And wasn't it just? Gillie is noted for her ingeniously fashioned gifts. : - )

If she is reading, I am looking forward to something woven or made of felt next time - two of the latest crafts she has "grafted" on.