Starting off my series of posts on perfume notes is the humble rose. I say humble only because in some ways the rose is ubiquitous and in this country, one can hardly pass a garden that does not have at least one rose bush or climber of some variety.
I do not aim to cover the botany of roses. One could write whole books on roses, and I don't feel I could do the subject any justice. What I can say though, is that I have loved roses almost my whole life. My earliest memories of roses are probably twofold. My local church where I grew up was on a slope, where below the gardens stretched out in a series of terraces that were jam-packed with rose bushes. My town was known as one of the best areas for growing roses, funnily enough, and these roses thrived, blooming for months on end, releasing their seductive fragrance. There was a garden of remembrance close by, where relatives would visit the site of their deceased ones' ashes. I can recall the stillness there, the only sound a light breeze through the pines, and the sweet alluring scent of roses. On days like that, the bittersweet memories were appropriately framed by the more tangible roses with their wicked thorns.
My second memory of roses arises in my own childhood garden. My parents grew a number of different roses, some standards, most of which had glorious, old-fashioned fragrance. I can still remember helping my dad prune the roses, or rather I watched him, broke thorns off the stems and licked them with saliva, planting them on the tip of my nose and pretending I was a wicked witch!
I personally find roses and their scent quite fascinating. In the context of smell and perfume, I suppose it is tempting to think of a rose smell as quite old fashioned, feminine and sometimes, a bit old-lady like. I don't and never have. Actually, I tend to think of lavender like that, whereas I have always thought of rose as possibly the most masculine flower there is, in as much as the smell goes. The shape and form of the flower is decidedly feminine and I shall leave it at that...
I think what also fascinates me about the smell of roses is how diversely it can be represented in a perfume. Roses can smell sweet and heady, green and dewy, dusky and dusty, slightly decaying (as in plant matter decay), earthy and even like tea. Plus a number of things in between. Plus, rose as a note goes well with many other notes, or can stand alone quite comfortably as a single note and in terms of style, can often be part of a chypre or oriental, pairing well with vanilla, patchouli, incense, balsams, and moss. While I enjoy almost all styles of rose, I am most drawn to what could be termed the 'dark rose'. I like my rose perfumes to carry an air of mystery and a certain seductiveness, and if there is a bit of sluttiness in there too, well, I'm certainly not complaining.
Next time I shall explore the rose perfumes themselves in a bit more detail. In the meantime, returning to the plant and flower itself, when I moved to England, the first house we stayed in was packed with rose bushes. They were old and gnarled and most years the leaves were spotted with fungal infections, but no matter what, each summer they bloomed with unfailing beauty and grace, and for a few short weeks, summertime was a joy to behold.