Saturday 29 August 2020

By gum! For some resin I am myrrh and myrrh drawn to perfumes with this note...

For much of the summer, I have been behaving in perfect conformity with the principle of seasonal fragrance wardrobe rotation, wearing perfumes with lilies and white flower bouquets for the most part. I also had a long run of Annick Goutal's Chevrefeuille (accents throughout this post on request), because its zingy lemon meringue note put a spring in my step, while the tomato leaf accord chimed with my prevailing gardening mojo. 

Then I don't know if it was the sudden turn for the worse in the weather, but I have been on a bit of a myrrh kick lately, which shows no signs of letting up. And not just perfumes showcasing the note, but to my surprise I realise that quite a few of my summery florals also have myrrh in the base. I recently scored a 5ml decant on eBay of that iconic beachy scent, Estee Lauder Bronze Goddess, which is a good example of this unexpected incense phenomenon - perhaps the myrrh is intended to connote the grittiness of the sand between your toes?

And I wore DKNY Gold a few times this summer, and blow me if it doesn't also have myrrh in it. Ditto Annick Goutal's Grand Amour. I wonder if I might be subliminally drawn to myrrh's grounding, meditative quality, though at such a small percentage in the formulation I may be rather overstating things, like detecting a soupcon of Worcester sauce in a meat pie.

Source: Fragrantica

Some other, more overtly myrrh-y scents for which I have reached lately (did I say 'reached for'? Feel free to shoot me) are:

Armani Prive Myrrhe Imperiale 

Hermes Myrrhe Eglantine

Eau d'Italie Baume du Doge

Papillon Perfumery Bengale Rouge

Puredistance SHEIDUNA

NB A couple of these reviews are worth a (re-)visit if only for the truly appalling puns in their titles.

Then I had a delve into my samples and decants and it seems there are quite a few more myrrh-containing scents to retry, including Ormonde Jayne Orris Noir, Dior Bois d'Argent, Guerlain Myrrhe et Delires, Huitieme Art Myrrhiad, Caron Parfum Sacre, Neila Vermeire Trayee, Mona di Orio Myrrh Casati, 100BON Myrrhe & Encens Mysterieux, YSL Opium(!) and more. Also worth mentioning is that on this list there are not one but TWO perfumes featuring that well known combo of myrrh and licorice.

I remember once owning a bottle of AG Myrrhe Ardente, an impulse buy on eBay in response to Boisdejasmin's four star review. Her and my tastes generally have a high degree of congruence, but on this occasion I found myself troubled by the oddball Coca-Cola note. It did smell amazing on fellow perfumista Donna in Belfast, but it wasn't right on me, and I sold it on.

Meanwhile, I have been dabbling again in burning myrrh resin with the help of my friend Gillie. The first time we did this was in 2014, and I ended up accidentally getting my finger trapped in a sash window, but as they say of women and labour pains, I have long since forgotten that traumatic association and entered into our experiment the other day with enthusiasm. Gillie is a real pro, and burns all kinds of incense in resin form in a variety of receptacles: charcoal holders, bowls, on spoons, and even on the end of a pin. I left with a 'party bag' of figs and flapjack as well as a delicious olfactory memory in my nostrils, and once home promptly bought two little bags of the resin on eBay - of which one was organic and from The Yemen, to hedge my bets on the quality if not the human rights front.

I had never really researched myrrh's botanical origins to any degree, and have only just learnt that it comes from the Commiphora Myrrha tree. Before I go any further - and especially given my earlier mention of giving birth - I should warn readers that 'this herb is contraindicated during pregnancy because of its emmenagogic activity'. 'Emmenagogic' - a splendid word which connotes the more strident kind of zealot, but means nothing of the sort. Speaking of pleasing amounts of 'g's in a word, a close relation of the Commiphora Myrrha is the Commophora Wightii (which has pleasing amounts of juxtaposed 'i's, while we are on the subject). The resin of the Wightii variety is known as 'gum guggulu' - as well as 'bdellium', not to be confused with the brand of makeup brushes of the same name. But how good is 'guggulu'? While browsing Wikipedia, I also learnt the excellent term 'anti-tussive', which is one of myrrh's various medicinal benefits.

Source: Wikipedia

It will be interesting to see if my craving for myrrh abates when the good weather returns, as surely it must before we have to declare the summer over. Or maybe it will segue into a similar fixation on frankincense, hehe...

What are your favourite myrrh-forward or 'hint of myrrh' perfumes? What else should I try?!

Sunday 16 August 2020

"How does your garden (not) grow?" Call for scented plant suggestions for next year...

Sorry, that was a rather 'contrary' use of the nursery rhyme lyrics, but I am currently in a phase of reverse gardening. By that I mean that the whole thing is undergoing a radical overhaul that is very much still at the 'rip it up, and start again' stage. Well, still ripping it up in fact. In the eight years since I bought the house, the well-stocked and fleetingly orderly flower beds have run absolutely rampant. In the end, the long and wide one on the left was populated almost entirely by a militant mob of aquilegia occupying the top half, with the rest completely colonised by pampas grass. I am dimly aware of the term 'self-seeding', and it looks like such surreptitious propagation had been going on at an explosive rate lately.

So back in March I engaged the services of an old school gardener - a chap who has worked all his life in nurseries, and instinctively refers to plants by their Latin names, as opposed to the usual kind of 'gardener' you meet nowadays, who basically cuts hedges and lawns and knows zilch about anything else - to clear out whatever plants he thought were spreading like wildfire, or growing too tall, or suffering from rot, or just plain ugly. He went at this job like a whirling dervish one day while I was in France, about to be locked down(!), and on my return my neighbour commented on how much he had achieved in a single day. His horticultural MO was tantamount to a scorched earth policy, without the military context or the scorching. But certainly my beds were nearly bare by the end of it, with a few plants spared on account of their fitting my stringent selection criteria for next time, of which more anon. 

Charlie Bonkers, the previous incumbent

In addition to dealing with the jungle of the flower beds themselves, I did finally screw my courage to the sticking place - suppressing my not inconsiderable repulsion in the process - and tackled the far end of the patio, into which I had never felt brave enough to venture all this while. Like the recent 'big garage clearout', which took two days and a lot of sheer physical graft, this was another job that was in the 'too hard' and 'too horrible' category to be done till now, but once I overcame my mental block and got on with it, there was a huge feeling of release and satisfaction in the finished result. 

For on that side of the patio were all sorts of receptacles with stagnant water and soil and stones in them; broken bits of pottery; old watering cans lying on their sides, home to rotting leaves and snails galore; watering cans with puddles of suspected weedkiller inside, plus a thicket of tangled vegetation and an old jerry can with a hole in it. I simply avoided going there, not least because there was also a clematis and honeysuckle madly climbing up the back of the garage, adding to the knotty mess of foliage. I could put a small bench in the space I have created. And have been using the water butt! It's a whole new outdoor space to just be in.

"Yes, it probably could do with thinning out!"

Until the gardener can replant next year, he will be doing another round of weedkilling, while I am in charge of lawncare. Which brings me to an embarrassing tale on that subject...

For the last time I mowed the lawn, on one of those boiling hot days we have had lately, I was nearly stopped in my tracks as soon as I started by the discovery of a dead frog. I had seen a live frog in a flower bed a couple of days previously, and presumed it had fallen prey to the cat - even though I had also observed them companionably sitting back to back to each other, like two amusingly mis-sized book ends. So I dashed out into the street, aimlessly looking for someone's husband to borrow to dispose of it, as I can only handle dead birds and mice - frogs seem a more alien and offputting category of corpse to me, especially as I couldn't detect any legs on this one. In the road I ran into the man who runs the local hardware store and solicited his help. "You just pick it up with a shovel and put it in a bag", was his opening salvo, until I apprised him of my psychological issues with amphibians. "Ah, but I can't leave my car unattended, as I have a lawn mower sticking out of the boot", he countered, "but if you prepare the tools first, then come back here and mind my mower, I'll deal with it." After thanking him profusely, I laid a spade, a pan and brush, and a sturdy rubble bag on the lawn, and stood guard by his car while he did the biz. The chap was back in no time, my equipment clearly untouched. He had evidently removed the snail (as it turned out to be) between his finger and thumb.

Bare or what?! (interrobang) taking stock I wonder if I might get the gardening bug, as I briefly did after my mother died? I do feel a lot better psychologically for doing even the most menial physical work outside, and by clearing the patio after so much time I feel I have bulldozed a huge mental and physical obstacle out of the way. 

Then the gardener had previously asked me to make a list of flowers and shrubs that I like, which he can then vet for their behavioural characteristics - for as with people, beauty is only petal deep, and plants may run amok or succumb to weevils as soon as look at you, which would never do. I went away and did that, and also added a list of my own parameters the plants must meet - not all of them(!) - but I would like the garden to include some plants like this in the mix:

  • Hardy
  • Perennial
  • Architecturally interesting 
  • Not overly prone to pests or disease
  • Not overly prone to self-seeding / going bonkers
  • Slightly acid-loving
  • Easy care
  • Variegated foliage
  • Seasonally colour-changing foliage (two for the price of one)
  • Plants with silvery / frosted foliage in winter (bit niche, this)
  • Plants with shoots that droop down like exploding fireworks (arguably even more niche!)
  • Arrestingly blue flowers

And last but not least....SCENTED. Which is where you all come in. I would be most grateful if you could suggest flowers, shrubs or trees (dwarf varieties only!) that have a nice fragrance. Not honeysuckle, as I have just chopped one of those down, haha.

The clematis survived the cull....

So far I have come up with a peachy rose, 'Virginal' mock orange, lemon-scented geraniums, jasmine, and a daphne of some description, but I have lots of time to gather more ideas, which can then be fed into / run past the gardener's reality-checking algorithm.

Strangely, I love the smell of lavender as a shrub - and it ticks the architectural box as well, also 'bee-friendly', if I was sufficiently ecologically-minded to have that one too - but not in any other format, so that is on my list. And I have a selection of mints in pots already, which I love to smell, though I don't really care for mints as a flavour either, plus the different varieties are not all pleasant by any means(!). I think apple mint is the one that smells traditionally - and acceptably - minty to my nose.

In my research on possible contenders for the big planting next year, I chanced upon four plant terms or names that made me smile:

  • Ranunculus
  • Macrophylla (sounds like a kind of immune cell)
  • Bracts
  • Panicles

So in addition to scented suggestions, do add any quirky horticultural words to this list. ;)

Oh, I nearly forgot...there has been one new addition to the planting already - 'Larry the Locust tree', donated by my friend Kate. He comes in the biggest pot I have ever seen, so am mindful that the watering operation needs to be substantially scaled up, especially in the hot weather. He provides a nice focus at the newly cleared end of the patio, and hopefully will soon recover from his inevitable transplant shock.