I’m still in New York City, so no post today (flight got canceled due to snow in Chicago – really?). I’m having lots of fragrant and non-fragrant fun. A short overview of my sniffage will show up on Friday, hopefully. Good day to all!
April 11th, 2007
Everyone knows what a rose smells like, right? Well, not so fast. Those who have only a passing acquaintance with roses may think they all smell pretty much alike when they have any scent at all, but in truth the world of roses is a vast one, with a correspondingly broad spectrum of fragrances spanning a range from sublime to unpleasant. I cannot possibly touch on all of them here, but just a few examples may get you thinking about sampling some different roses, either in your garden or in a bottle of perfume.
Let’s get the unpleasant part out of the way first. A species called Rosa Foetida, a native of the southern Caucasus area of Europe, was introduced by rose breeders many years ago as a way to get the yellow and orange colors into northern European roses, which were virtually all white, pink and crimson. The hybrids did inherit the color – as well as a fungal disease called blackspot and sometimes the pungent odor of Rosa Foetida, a turpentine-like acrid smell. However, as new varieties were developed and crossed further to make new generations of hybrids, the smell of this rose mostly disappeared. It crops up in some interesting places, however. The very famous tomato-red Hybrid Tea ‘Fragrant Cloud’ has a distinct and pungent odor of turpentine on very hot days that cuts right through its sweetness. I never grew it for that very reason. However, one if its progeny is an interesting example of floral fragrance genetics. ‘Dolly Parton’ is a cross between ‘Fragrant Cloud’ and a black-red rose called ‘Oklahoma”, a descendant of the ‘General Jacqueminot’ rose famous for its sweet scent in the 19th century (and the subject of the famous first perfume by Francois Coty, La Rose Jacqueminot in 1904). Dolly got a generous dose of thick, jammy damask fragrance from this parent, and no matter how hot it gets, she is never anything but delicious.
Speaking of damask, that is the ancient archetype of rose fragrance, what we all think of as “rosy” and immediately recognized by everyone. It is also the type of rose most used in perfumery (it includes those called Moroccan or Turkish roses) along with Rosa Centifolia, known in the trade as Rose de Mai. Damask roses are powerfully fragrant and very intensely sweet, while Rose de Mai has a soft, dewy demeanor that is well suited to blending with other essences in perfumes. Sometimes Musk roses are also used in perfumes. They have a honey-like almost powdery scent that is very pleasing in the garden and in perfumes.
In modern times, old European roses were crossed with roses from the Far East called Tea and China roses. This is a broad term for a group of tender roses from Asia that brought a whole new range of fragrances into the West, adding delicious fruity and spicy aromas to the rose breeders’ scent palette. This has resulted in some wonderful roses that smell of oranges, lemons, apples, raspberries, peaches, cloves and other delights. One of my very favorites is a Hybrid Tea called ‘Rosemary Harkness’ that has the heady zing of fresh passion fruit. Another is ‘Comtesse de Provence,’ a majestically old-fashioned looking flower that smells exactly like sun-warmed ripe apricots. You can imagine how often my nose is buried in this one! My “Holy Grail” of this group, too tender to succeed in my climate without careful winter protection, is a butter-yellow climbing Noisette rose called ‘Marechal Niel,’ said to be scented of ripe wild strawberries.
One of these roses has actually been made into its own perfume – the Crabtree & Evelyn company bought the rights to a wonderful rose by the master breeder of English Roses®, David Austin, and named it Evelyn. They used it in an eponymous fragrance line that highlights its fruity scent. This rose smells (to me) of ripe nectarines, and is not very “rosy” at all. The perfume is the same way, and it is the least rosy of any soliflore type rose fragrance I am aware of. The English roses are probably the most fragrant of the modern roses, and many of them have unusual scents. My special favorites among them are the ones that smell of myrrh, which you may know from such perfumes as Caron’s Parfum Sacre or the many incense-based perfumes on the market today. The cool thing about these flowers is that the myrrh is built right in, no need to add it! It is extremely pleasing but not really sweet at all, just heady and bracing, an exhilarating aroma. Of course, I have my favorites in this sub-group as well, and the one I would choose above the others is ‘Emanuel,’ introduced in 1985 and named after the designers of Princess Diana’s wedding dress. This apricot-pink beauty hard to find now but its exquisite fragrance is a perfect blend of myrrh and damask, and I treasure my one bush of it. If I had room for a thousand of them, maybe I could have my own special perfume made too. Now, that’s my idea of a soliflore.
By Donna Hathaway
Image source: Illustration of ‘Marechal Niel’ by Hermann Friese, from Julius Hoffmann’s The Amateur Gardener’s Rose Book, 1905
April 11th, 2007