Saturday, 20 July 2013

Rose is a Rose is a Rose is a Rose Perfume - or is it?

Complete with cut out 'V' on the leaf!
This week marks my first anniversary in the new Bonkers Towers.  It has been an eventful year, what between the hydra-headed woodworm, the broken windows and dodgy boiler, the lack of work for half the year and the sadly departed cat.  But there has been much to celebrate too - some strides have been made on the decorating front, and I now have a collection of herbs in pots on the patio. The other thing I love about the garden is that you never know what is going to pop up next, though now that the year has come full circle it should have yielded up all its secrets.  I have especially enjoyed the many varieties of rose that I inherited.  Following our meeting in Brussels last August, I promised Victoria of Bois de Jasmin that I would devote a post to the roses in my garden, but I may have been distracted by Charlie Bonkers' illness around that time, and then the moment passed, the roses went over, and I forgot about it.

But this year the display has been so varied and colourful that I decided to photograph each one before it was too late.  I also gave myself the challenge of sniffing them all in a bid to match any of their scents with a specific rose perfume in my collection.  Or failing that, just to come up with my own take on what roses smell of in their natural habitat.

Before I set to it, a post on Bois de Jasmin entitled The Ultimate Rose Perfume came to mind, in which guest writer Suzanna singles out two scents in particular as being 'true' replicas of roses:


"For its realistic interpretation of fresh roses, Creed’s Fleur de Thé Rose Bulgare has little competition.  After a somewhat perfume-y and oddly “green” start, this one is unmatched rose verisimilitude with green tea over a gently salty ambergris and musk base. Now discontinued, or pulled from production, perhaps to return from the Creed vault at a later date.

Far less expensive – and even more streamlined – is the drugstore icon Tea Rose from The Perfumer’s Workshop.  I’ve had a bottle in my wardrobe forever.  Tea Rose smells of rose oil and little else."

I have tried the former, but have long since used up my decant.  Even though my memory is hazy, I do recall it being a very fine rendition of an actual rose. Tea Rose, however, continues to elude me, with The Perfumer's Workshop being a US brand.

So...over the course of a few days I went about systematically sniffing all the roses in my garden and recording my thoughts.  There were some surprises along the way as you will see.  Oh, and I should point out that I have absolutely no clue what any of them are called, hence why I favoured a Gertrude Stein quote for the title of this post like 'The Name of The Rose', say.  Because in Stein's view, the essential identity or quiddity of the flower is in no way diminished by its lack of a name.  As in avant-garde turn of the century poetry, so in my garden!  Okay, that's a complete cop out, but moving is a summary of my main learning points:

Dark red roses don't smell at all!

Or at least my particular varieties don't, and they are a far cry from the hothouse flowers that are so often thrust in your face at the end of a nice meal in an Indian restaurant:  'Thornless, odourless, soon-to-be-lifeless rose for the lady?'

The above specimen is strangely reminiscent of a red cabbage in cross-section, wouldn't you say?

And here's a picture of the 'control', which was just as scent-free as its friend the other side of the garden.  If you know of a scented red variety - and I have no doubt there must be some! - do tell!

Some pinks are more tasteful - and odiforous - than others

This pink and white number had a very faint scent, which doesn't really warrant any attempt on my part to describe it, however it scores points for variegation.  This is the shade of pink that makes me think of the more unwearable end of the Rimmel lipstick spectrum.  'Get the London look!' urges Kate Moss, the face of Rimmel's ad campaign.  Not unless I was going to a fancy dress party specifically themed around unflattering lipstick shades.  Hmm, that might be fun, actually...

Peachy pink and yellow roses have the most beautiful smell of all

Though not OF peaches, I hasten to add.  I am including in this category peach with red tips, peachy vermilion, peachy pink (like the one pictured at the top of the post) and peachy leaning to yellow.  And the more tasteful shades of pink that aren't strictly peachy.

This one scores points for variegation too, but has the most incredible smell.  How to describe it?  I am not sure I could do justice in words to the scent on its own, not least because the experience of smelling a rose is inextricably bound up with other senses - the visual appreciation of its colour and the caressing touch of its petals. And oddly, rose petals always feel cool to the nose, even on a hot day.

Okay, here goes...The scent itself is 'perfumey' - I know, I know, that is rather a lame descriptor, but it is! Tender.  Delicate.  Fresh.  Honeyed, but never cloying.  Soft and silky.  Heady.  Feminine.  Happy.  Pure. Yielding.  No, it's no good - I give up!  But if you can think of other good adjectives, please do leave a comment with your suggestions.

And here is what I take to be the same variety again, blushing at my compliments about its delicious scent.

This one was so tall I couldn't actually reach up to sniff it, but I am willing to bet it would have smelt just as amazing!

The only rose in my garden which smells like a perfume I own is...

This yellow one!  IUNX Eau Frappée perfectly captures the scent of yellow roses crossed with lemon sorbet.  It is astonishingly refreshing and lifelike.

When it comes to budding, some shapes are more...ahem...aesthetic than others

The above rose illustrates the epitome of a bud opening in a socially acceptable manner.

This rose, notwithstanding its magnificent scent, looks a little too Georgia O'Keeffe - or do I mean Tiny Tears? - for its own good.

Roses are an object lesson in 'blowsy'

When I was at school, we had a number of very strict school rules, including not wearing 'technicoloured underwear' with our uniform, not wearing stripy socks ('the mark of a harlot'), and not loitering outside the Astoria Picture House, where boys from the neighbouring school might attempt to 'wrest' our scarves from us.  Which we took to be a euphemism.  Additionally, although it was the era of Farah Fawcett curls and Carmen heated rollers, we were not allowed to 'titivate' our hair into 'blowsy styles'.  Ever since, I have been drawn to a tousled rumpled look wherever it manifests itself - Alexa Chung's hair, slouchy socks, and roses of a certain age.

Working the blowsy look.


Blowsiest!  Oh, okay, more dying than blowsy, and it is a fine line.  Which leads me neatly to the final part of my rose investigations, which was to see what happens to the scent as the petals finally shrivel up and go brown.

Over the course of a couple of days, I continued to resniff these dead petals at intervals - I know they look like the shocking pink variety higher up the post, which had next to no odour, but trust me, this isn't that one. Initially I would get whiffs of their normal scent interspersed with a musty, dried up smell, plus a hint of indoles, and over time the ratio of mustiness increased till the perfumey scent had totally disappeared.  The petals never got horribly indolic at any point, though I repeated the same exercise with some magnolia petals I found on a tree in the next street and they were off the scale indolic-tangy-phantom ylang-ylangy!  Quite disgusting in the finish.

So there you have it - one rose perfume identified, and a few general colour-scent correlations tentatively advanced - but any horticulturally minded readers are most welcome to shoot these down.  And what better way to round this post off than with a picture of a rose (or two)!

Oh all right then, here's another one!


  1. For a nice red rose with a scent try David Austin's Shakespeare 2000. I agree with about the peachy ones, though - they seem to have the best scents. Perhaps it's tied to the yellow pigment.

  2. Hi NancyG,

    Thanks for stopping by with your red rose tip off - I will look out for that variety.

    Sounds like my peachy ones are typical of their kind, though!

  3. Francis Dubreuil is a gorgeous velvety red tea rose with a beautiful jammy scent. My mother also has a red rose that is quite strongly fragranced. One of my favorites for fragrance is Maggie which is a pretty dark pink rose that blooms profusely throughout the year. Your flowers are beautiful. Thank you for sharing them!

  4. I've never been drawn to roses in real life- but your roses look lovely- especially those yellow ones (especially especially that politely blooming bud..:))

  5. Hi Liz K,

    That Francis Dubreuil sounds heavenly, and I will also look up Maggie.

    Thanks for dropping in, and I am glad you liked the photos!

  6. Hi Lavanya,

    Nice to hear from you again. I have another yellow rose that has a very round bloom with small tight petals - veering towards a dahlia in appearance if you know what I mean - but it didn't make the cut because I simply couldn't remember anything about it!

    I agree that the politely blooming bud is a great improvement on his rude 'flower bedfellow'!

  7. Papa Meilland, Munstead Wood, Falstaff, Deep Secret are all intensely scented deep red roses.

    Hunt them out.

  8. Hi JadeGreenImage,

    Thanks for all these steers. I didn't doubt that there must be some scented red roses out there, and with readers' help, I am compiling quite a list!

  9. Lovely post, V. I brought back happy memories of all the roses that grew in our garden when I was young. The scent of them was gorgeous. Honeyed but far from cloying is a great description. I think it would be hard for a perfume to come close. In particular I remember a lavender-ish one called Blue Moon and a yellow one with same name as me. I don't think they smelt the best though. Many ateempts at making perfume them also proved pretty yucky.

    Your pics are great. The socially acceptable rose and it's counterpart did make me smile. In that last pic the yellow roses look almost neon. Gorgeous.

  10. Love this post and your odd rules at school. Titivate? Blowsy? I would never have thought of stripey socks as risque! I've never been drawn to roses in perfume or as plants, but we also have inherited a rental house with tons of roses. We don't have quite the variety you do, but there is a dark pink/yellow one and that one had my favorite scent as well - very bright and citrusy. One pink one had no scent at all and then 2 other light pinks ones had very light fragrances. Also have one white one that is a light scent as well. It was nice to have lots of free cut flowers to decorate the house this spring -they are mostly done here in warm San Diego other than 1 white one that is still blooming.

  11. Hi tara,

    I think roses are very much connected with all our childhoods - they were the most common flower in English gardens and probably my first introduction to scented plants.

    That lavender one sounds intriguing and I love the thought of a rose called Tara. You actually tried to make perfume from them, did you? That's enterprising! I am tempted to make rose petal jelly sometime - Victoria has sent me a recipe, though I am not sure I have the 600ml of rose petals required. Should have intercepted the dying ones sooner, with jam in mind!

  12. Hi odonata9,

    We had some very odd - and harsh -school rules, though they make me smile, looking back.

    How nice that you have inherited all those roses with your rental house, and your observations tend to confirm my own colour-scent correlations, especially the dark pink/yellow one having the nicest scent.

    My favourite pillow is from San Diego - I bought it for $15 from the Ramada in the Gaslight district and carried it on a further 11 flights before I got it home. ;-) If I am ever lucky enough to go there again, I will bear in mind that you are there - and your roses, depending on the time of year!

  13. I've already looked at your pictures several times since the other day. Your garden must be so beautiful right now. Even here all of the roses are in full bloom.

    When I was visiting a friend recently, she gave me a couple of small flowers from her heritage rose plant. The scent was enough to fill our whole bedroom, and--this was even more surprising, it lasted even after they were dry. I must find out what rose she has.

  14. Hi Victoria,

    Firstly, thanks for giving me the idea for this post in the first place, although it has been a long time coming. ;-)

    A rose with a beautiful scent after it has gone over - that's impressive and well worth hunting down. I have put all my cut roses in either the living or dining room, but roses in a bedroom sounds like a lovely idea.

  15. Your roses are positively radiant, Vanessa. (And quite blowsy, yes, but I rather like it when flowers get a little wild!) ;-)

    And thank you for teaching me a new word with "titivate." Love it - it's a delicious word to say, even.

  16. I love roses "in nature" (vs "in bouquets") and enjoy rose note in some perfumes though not all of them work for me since they turn very soapy - which I don't like at all. One of the perfumes I actually hated for that reason was that Tea Rose from The Perfumer’s Workshop. Brrrr...

    Your roses are beautiful!

  17. Hi Suzanne,

    I keep finding more blooms every time I go out in the garden - am currently enjoying a very pale peachy pink one that smells even closer to Eau Frappee would you believe! ie it actually has a lemony facet as well as the heavenly perfumey scent of the ones in that colourway!

  18. PS Happy to have passed on 'titivate' - a very useful word. It usually has the connotation of 'jeuge' or pep up and improve on something that is intrinsically lacking. It is slightly derogatory as well. They might conceivably have said to 'titivate' the Iraq dossier for example, instead of 'sex up', but it isn't really a word that would spring to a politician's lips I don't suppose. ;-) Also, something 'titivated' might also be in a good position to 'titillate', so there is some assonantal(?) crossover there!

  19. Hi Undina,

    I was interested to get your take on rose perfumes and I don't think I would care for soapy ones myself either. Amouage Dia can be touch and go in that regard - or it is nowadays!

    And you have tried Tea Rose - and found it wanting! Well, I shan't be able to smell it anytime soon I am happy to gather feedback from other people.

  20. Our roses have been spectacular this year. One thing it is important to know is that roses don't release their fragrances all the time and especially not in the heat of the day. We grow David Austin and heirloom roses and there are some wonderfully fragrant reds, especially some of the old Gallicas.

    My favorite rose fragrance is Shiseido's White Rose and one of our heirlooms, the fabulous Great Maiden's Blush must be the rose Shiseido uses for this fragrance it is utterly sublime!

  21. Hi Kathy,

    Thanks for the tip about sniffing roses in cooler temperatures. I will try that with the red ones next year! Perhaps I simply misjudged the moment.

    And how interesting that you have come up with another rose to rose scent correlation. I have tried the Shiseido perfume but not Great Maiden's Blush - I will be sure check it out if I ever come across it in a garden centre etc.

  22. Hiya V,

    Only tip I can pass on with regard to roses: dead-head them every day to keep them flowering. I did this in my aunt's garden and there were many buds opening when I left.

    She has a very deep pink-red rose with a gorgeous scent but, alas, we don't know the names of any of her garden's roses.

    Your "red cabbage cross-section" lookalike resembles an old-fashioned rose: maybe re-sniff it at dusk because I'd be really surprised if it had no scent at all at any time.

    I like the sound of the yellow one that reminds you of IUNX Eau Frappée; might be on the scrounge for a cutting!

    cheerio, Anna in Edinburgh

  23. Hi Anna,

    I recently learnt of the need to dead-head to encourage further blooms, and am doing bursts of that whenever I remember.

    Those pinky red roses sound divine. Glad to hear I am not the only one who is not well versed in the names of the things!

    Next year I will give the red roses the benefit of the doubt and sniff them in the evening.

    If I could think of a way of getting a cutting of the IUNX smell-alike to you without killing it in transit, you'd be very welcome to one!

  24. I actually really like Dia and was thinking what to do once my last sample runs out (I've drained 2 x 2 ml already).

    Since I don't expect any change of heart on my part regarding Tea Rose, I'll try to get it to you when my friend goes to the U.K. on the business trip in the next couple of months (I don't want to play with the international shipping of perfumes to the U.K. with the new regulations).

  25. Hi Undina,

    I think I may have some Dia left that I could spare, so maybe we could come to a reciprocal rose scent arrangement. ;-). Will check what I've got when I get home.