Friday, June 4, 2010

Peonies, aka flowers that morph in the garden (plus one that morphs out of the bottle)

The past few days, the house has been redolent of floral soap, aka peonies.

I don't mind one bit.

The yard is full of blooms.  I am breathing a sigh of relief.  After a few years of nursing divisions of still not quite established plants from the old school, which had been transplanted from the old house, plants which had been either dug up by my grandfather from his yard, or by me from an about to be razed yard across the alley, their journey seems to have found a resting point.  With thanks probably due to an unusually drawn out spring--this week, we once again find ourselves with rain and cool temps, after a couple of rounds of very hot and humid--peonies are blooming in succession in various spots in the yard.  Shade and different varieties have meant that this is the third week with buds opening into blooms.

Stretching out the experience is a gardener's sleight of hand.  In succession gardening, you choose and arrange plants according to their known bloom times, so that there is always a flush of color somewhere. You can make this happen in one bed, or move the openings across space.  (In my yard, I have planted bulbs and perennials so that the first open farther away from the house, and then move closer, but as the growing season closes, that last hurrah bulbs are again moving away.)  You can also play with the boundaries of where a plant will survive, as with the peonies.  Peonies will tolerate a range of sun and shade as it is, so they are a natural for placing here and there to extend bloom time.

The fact that mine have a personal history helps motivate the desire to keep them around, in the yard and as cuttings in the house, as long as possible.  The fact that I care enough about them to want them survive no matter what means that there are homes throughout the greater metro area that now have these plants growing in their own yards.  I let go of a little piece of me in both transitions...but there have been rewards in that difficult process.  Such as knowing that even if I mess up, my grandfather's peonies have a greater chance of surviving in the world.

When peonies buds first start swelling, you get a hint of what they are going to look like, color-wise.  But there could be surprises inside...flames of other color, or splotches, or outright shares, or central stamens that contrast.  Plus, the flower could be one of those double filled ones, or a single cup, or "standard."  Getting to this stage takes 2-3 years from the time of division/planting a young specimen.

Getting a plant full of them takes another year or two.

I have to admit that I have a preference for the stipey buds, the ones that echo the flame tulip.  Yup, the flame tulip that cause such a stir back in the 16th century that people did the equivalent of taking out a mortgage in order to buy a few bulbs. Bulbs which were so highly valued because of the unusual striping on the petals.  Markings, aka "color breakings," which, it turns out, were caused by a virus.

Remember...development happens.  What you see here might not clearly indicate what happens next.

No flames on the open flowers, but contrasting yellow stamens.

Waiting, nurturing without obvious result, letting go in order to secure survival...difficult.  But such rewarding potential outcome...

This is but part of the reason why the smell of a peony in bloom will always be a striation of simplicity and history.  Sure, it's a soapy floral.

But what it took to get there...and the various forms it can take in delivery vehicle...


There are perfumes, of course, which morph as much as that red & white striped peony bud.

And which smell as simply soapy floral as the blossom.

When it comes to perfume, I'd rather wear the morpher.  I still can't get No. 5, my uber-soapy floral, to a "brings happiness" place.  I have my sensors up, waiting for an opportunity to try Patou 1000, which has brought happiness to Abigail, whose opinion I like to pay attention to. But I fear that my generation might sentence me to forever getting "soap" out of aldehydic florals...and something perhaps related to the fact I am uncomfortable wearing turtlenecks leading to me getting "smothering" out of an outright floral without lift.

So, I tend to search among the morphers and the unusually juxtaposed to get my floral happy place.  Andy Tauer's Une Rose Chypree, for example, which puckers your nose ever so slightly in the opening by letting the vegetal greenness of geranium and the sparkle of a hint of citrus go through a little sparring demo and then you start to realize the whole thing was choreographed, and the choreographer steps and a lo and behold it's rose, but the show is of course not focused on the choreographer.  Later, on me, the whole thing becomes and ambery wonder, to the point where I have forgotten what I sprayed that turned into that.  So maybe that's cheating, because the "floral" idea suggested by having a flower in the name never really turns out to be a straight up floral...but I did warn you that I'm not a fan of the straight up flower when it comes to perfume.

But wait, you say...what of the peony?  Can you stick to your thought train a little more closely and discuss not just the idea of flowers, or a flower which is not a peony, but maybe an actual peony scent?

And the honest answer is, not really.  I haven't tried much perfume which features peony.  Not the Stella in Two, not the Angel flanker, not any of Yardley or Crabtree and Evelyn or such.  Okay, I probably sniffed something in my dark ages before perfume, and that buried memory could well be contributing to why I am not inclined to do so today.  Maybe some day, the interest of scholarship.  If I did, I would start with the Yves Rocher Pivoine, because YR has provided some pleasant perfume surprises, and has that amber which I think is a fab bargain in terms of quality for price, plus I keep on seeing positive comments in comments on the interwebs.

BTW, I tend to get chided for touting the Voile d'Ambre, because I'm revealing some sort of secret, but hey, that's in production.  It's not like I'm directing you to an auction for a d/c scent that I'm in the midst of bidding on.  Plus, it's summer, and you'll think, oh, yeah, I should try that, but later, when it gets colder...and then you'll forget...and then it will still be a scent they mass produce for me, just me...  ;)

Have a great weekend.  Walk a garden.  Bring some blooms inside.  Maybe put one on.


Andy Tauer's own words on Une Rose Chypree, from his blog (which is, incidentally, an interesting read if you have by some odd chance not been there yet; he discusses his process as he goes about creating scents, as well as business, and other odds and ends as it suits him):
“Une rose chyprée” is an oriental rose on a chypre base. It is an elegant perfume built around two natural extracts from rosa damascena, absolute and the steam distilled essential oil.
Its heart is lifted by spices (Bay and cinnamon) and a fresh accord built around bergamot, lemon and clementine. Green Bourbon geranium oil lets the rose petals shine and contrasts with the dark resinous accord in the base, built around labdanum, oakmoss, patchouli, vetiver and vanilla.

all images are mine

the Une Rose Chypree juice I respond to comes from a Tauer-bottled sample, won via a blog contest, and I hope to replace it with more soon

all opinions expressed herein are solely those of the nom de plumed writer known as ScentScelf, which should be patently apparent given that not only is this a blog authored by ScentScelf, but these opinions are often imperfectly expressed and kind of twisted, so who would I take them from?  for that matter, who'd want 'em?   I'm feeling silly today, and am noting it here, for your amusement as well as mine if you've bothered to read this much fine print

speaking of fine print, agate is a stone, not just a type size, and you can find them in Lake Superior, along with, of course, the Edmund Fitzgerald.  now, if you've read THIS far, type "Gordon Lightfoot" in the comments, and you can get a sample of one of two florals I do enjoy:  Bulgari Rose Essentiale, DK Gold, or one I don't, Guerlain Mahora.  phew!  let's see if anybody's paying attention...


La Bonne Vivante said...

Ah the ponies are blooming here too. My favorites are the single-layered and 'Japanese' peonies,' although I don't dislike the blowsy big-headed classic peonies.
On the fragrance end of things, I love 1000, and want to get a bottle someday. And une rose chypree is gorgeous. Chanel no. 5 I could happily do without, though I don't dislike it....

yours, LBV

kjanicki said...

I'm paying attention! I've tried the Bvlgari (I have a soft spot for all the Bvlgari's) but not the other two.

ScentScelf said...

Ah, those Japanese ones are nice...and the singles...and I like tree peonies, too. I guess there's not a peony I've met that I don't like.

So, you love 1000, eh? (Scribbles another "+" in notebook...)

ScentScelf said...


:) Okay, I see that you are. (Scribbles a note to include Krista...)

fountaingirl said...

Gordon Lightfoot. LOLOL!

BTW, there is a new peony scent coming out -- check out L'Occitane.

fountaingirl (at) gmail (dot) com

Ines said...

Gordon Lightfoot!

Ines said...

I'm paying attention too! :)
The fine print was fun!
Btw, I'd really like to walk a garden but I think I'll have to wait a day or two (or even 3) since we've had rain for a whole week (and some floods in some areas of Croatia) so no walking through gardens just yet.
I wish I could see your garden through its seasons - it must be a great sight.

ScentScelf said...


Duly noted! Shall contact you by next Monday. And will keep an eye out for that L' the name of duty, of course. :)

ScentScelf said...


Good on you! :) Okay, you are noted, too.

Glad you had fun. Wish I could offer up a magical footbridge that would let you cross over and stroll here for a bit, at least until your waters recede.

queen_cupcake said...

Gordon Lightfoot, definitely. And now I will have to go home and play a lovely tribute CD that I'm dying to hear again. Here's the Amazon listing if you are interested:

I have peonies in my garden and they are looking great just now. Love your photos! Is peony a difficult fragrance note for some folks? I grew up with loads of them in the garden so I have some great associations with their smell. Not to mention their ballerina-like gorgeousness.

Dionne said...

I had two peonies in my previous house, a classic full-o-petals in a medium pink, and a light pink with spiky cream petals in the middle. I miss them, and now I wonder why I haven't planted them here yet.

Would you consider sending one of those samples across the border? After all, Gordon Lightfoot IS a Canadian like myself, and I've been wanting to try DK Gold. (Oh, and check out the serendipity - I put in an order for the Voile D'Ambre sample just yesterday. It'll be our little secret. ;)

ScentScelf said...


Hey, that's an interesting line-up. Ron Sexsmith, Tragically Hip, Bruce Cockburn...Maria Muldaur...okey-dokey, I'm going to have to go through and play the samples.

Glad you enjoy the photos! As for peony being a difficult note in fragrance for some people, well, that's a good question. My miasma of concept on that is a) it is not featured much, especially by more prominent "upscale" lines (though you can find an indie here and there), and b) my own take on the flower itself ("soapy"). Do you have a peony fragrance you know and like?

They are pretty beautiful, aren't they? :)

ScentScelf said...


Allow me to be your peony planting enabler. :)

Well, considering the origins of the balladeer, and the fact that your own handle can conjure a certain set of famous quintuplets from your land...I think I would be remiss to not at least attempt a mailing.

Ooh! You ordered! (...and...psssst...thanks for keeping this whole amber thing on the down low...)

Dionne said...

Oooh, you'd be my first - I'm still a sample-receivin' virgin when it comes to the perfume people. But this newbie is happy to report that great little packages from Tauer, Ineke and SSS have come my way without a peep from customs.

And I totally forgot to mention the fabulousness that is the fernleaf peony. Have you ever run across one of those? They're stunning in full bloom.

queen_cupcake said...

It's funny--I've never gone out of my way to find a peony fragrance for myself, although I have sniffed a few that allegedly contained that note. For me, it is not so much soapy as it is green (-ish).

ScentScelf said...

Dionne, I've only seen those fernleaf peonies in, I take that back; once in a yard, once at a garden center. They are gorgeous. I think I want a tree peony know, prioritizing the wish list...kinda like with perfume. ;)

ScentScelf said...

Queen Cup,

Mmm, yes, I do know what you mean by the green element. Maybe that's why I can handle the flower.

You've got me thinking...I'll come back to this...

Musette said...

I did read the fine print but no Gordon Lightfoot for me, thanks. Alas and alack I am not a fan of Mahora or DKGold (yes, I know. Kill. Me. Now.)

but I did want to comment on the lovely peony prose - you know (I think you do, anyway) how I feel about the peony in fragrance. I just never 'get' it. It's not a particularly 'pretty' scent, to me, though I absolutely adore it on the bush and in the vase. It just seems like one of those plants/scents that is best left in its relatively natural state. Perhaps I haven't found the peony fragrance to adore, yet, except on the bush and in the vase? Time will tell.

Late bloomers got whacked by the galeforce winds so we're pretty much done for the season, peony-wise. But like you, we enjoyed a cool enough spring to extend their bloom time, for which I am grateful. Lovely flower..


ScentScelf said...

I'll hold the Canadian balladeer, then, and the attendant samps. :)

Looks like we'll have to wait another round of seasons to examine the bush/vase option...rains have knocked the remaining ones of mine now, too. I won't be seeking out a peony scent in the interim...but I won't close the door should one appear on my doorstep. I might not invite it in, but I'll at least sniff it before I send it packing. ;) And I'll be sure to report back.

pheromones said...

I love the beautiful flowers I actually planted some beautiful peonies and tulips the other day. Thanks for a wonderful post and I look forward to reading more!