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Cornucopia - Perfume Is Personal

Perfume Is Personal
Sue Hutcheson

Many, many articles and indeed whole books, have been written on the subject of scent in the garden. However while I too have been fascinated by the subject and have tried to learn about scented plants that I could grow in my garden, the thing that I have never managed to grasp is the difference between the various descriptions of ‘scent’.

There are many words to describe scent as I discovered years ago when I wanted to plant scented roses in amongst herbs in what was planned to be a fairly large area. Living in Norfolk, I sent off to Peter Beales for their rose catalogue and spent many happy hours looking through it, especially the section on old roses. Old roses are famed for their scent and would, I thought, look particularly good with the soft colours of herbs. Choosing colours, heights, spreads and disease resistance was relatively simple but when I came to choose the ones with the best fragrance I was flummoxed.

Now I know that scent is a very personal thing. You only have to go into the perfumery department of any store to realise that 90% of perfumes are not ones you would choose to wear and it is clear that we smell things differently from each other, otherwise there would not be the plethora of perfumes on offer all of which presumably make money for their producers.

What I was looking for in my roses was something that would be more universally recognised as that ‘wonderful old rose smell’. I have also found that there are some scents that I cannot detect which others can e.g. I have a ‘coconut’ scented clematis which others can smell but in which I struggle to detect any perfume at all. So when the catalogue says ‘scented’, ‘fragrant’, ‘very fragrant’, ‘strong perfume’, ‘superb 'expensive' perfume’, ‘well perfumed’ and the like, what am I to make of it? The only way to be sure is to visit the nursery when the roses are out and hope that you don’t have a cold that day.

If you think that’s a good idea, be aware that there are other pitfalls to consider. Many years ago I went on holiday to Cornwall and while there I took a day out to visit Rosemoor, the RHS garden in north Devon. They had recently planted up a wonderful rose garden with all sorts – climbers, hybrid teas, floribundas, miniature, patio and modern and old fashioned shrub roses. I spent virtually the whole day at Rosemoor. I smelled every rose that I was interested in and I still have the notebook today. I wrote down beside a brief description of the flower, how the scent seemed to me. Then I went for lunch and a wander round the rest of the garden. Still having some time to spare, I went back to the rose garden to pick out and smell again the roses that I had noted especially and inexplicably there were quite a few that did not smell the same. I wondered at the time if this was because my nose had become bamboozled with all the smelling I was doing but later came to realise that although my nose may have had enough, roses and many other flowers, smell differently at various times of the day. Their scent also varies with the weather and atmosphere and a number of them are ‘wafters’.

In the end I was happy with my final choice not only for the herb garden but for other parts of the garden too. My favourites are still 'Madame Isaac Pereire', 'Ispahan', 'Kathleen Harrop', 'Albertine' and the lovely apricot 'Lady Hillingdon', although she has a lighter ‘tea’ scent. Some of you may agree with me, others will have their own favourites. Perfume is personal.

First published in the Correspondents’ Group Newsletter June 2013
and subsequently in Cornucopia Issue 33.
© Copyright for this article: Sue Hutcheson

This article was taken from a copy of Cornucopia that was published in 2014. You could be reading these articles as they are published to a national audience, by subscribing to Cornucopia.


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