A Nose for Every Flower

The root base on this thing is HUGE, fyi.

Everything seems to have burst into bloom here recently. I got to thinking about it – flower season is more condensed here, 6 – 8 weeks later in arriving than it was in D.C., so maybe that’s why it feels like there’s more overlap in terms of what’s blooming (e.g., lilac and wisteria) at the same time? Anyway, all my sniffage over the past few weeks has been flowers and herbs, getting my scent buzz right from the source.

Look at this massive wisteria – there’s a cautionary tale, right? That’s a hotel and I know they’re keeping an eye on it as it climbs right up over a two-story building to the rooftop, so it doesn’t swallow the building. It smelled absolutely incredible, and I spent some quality time out there underneath it, near the entrance from the parking lot. Did you know that wisteria is from the same family as sweet pea? Makes sense when you think about the shape of the flowers, and the scent. Did you know there’s a native wisteria in the U.S.? I did not. Chinese wisteria is, I think, considered a noxious invasive throughout the continental U.S., which doesn’t stop people from planting it. It’s very popular out here over walls and pergolas, providing shade in the summer. I’m glad I don’t have to wrangle one myself, but I can’t help admiring them. Portia did this great post on wisteria not too long ago.

Wisteria pops up as a note (and in some cases, the name) for several fragrances in Fragrantica, mostly things that are white florals with green or spicy notes. Not all wisteria is scented, just like not all roses are scented. I’m always a little disappointed when the wisteria don’t smell, because it’s a lovely sweet note with a hint of green.

The wall o’ yellow roses in my back yard.

We’ve had this discussion (maybe more than once): it’s funny which flowers get sorted into the “smells yummy!” consumer pile and which don’t, although perfumistas are certainly more aware than the general public.  Nobody besides us is blathering on about how fabulous some irises can smell. Also wisteria – which also doesn’t make anyone’s best-of list for flower arranging, and I want to give that a go: what would I do? Drape it decoratively down the side of a tall vase as an accent to a larger floral arrangement, sort of like a bunch of grapes?

What is even the point of a mostly-unscented rose? I don’t care how gorgeous it is. Also, I read this description of Persian roses on Wiki: the rose is named for its smell–foetida is Latin for “having a bad smell”—which is reminiscent of boiled linseed oil, a smell which some find objectionable. However, according to others “the smell is not all that bad.” Well, I disagree, I think they smell nice, generally a combo of incense and butter… you know, but in a good way.

These probably smell like feet.

The cacti here are blooming, and I got down there and sniffed but I couldn’t smell much of anything. Here’s the thing, though, the blooms attract tons of those little bees that look like flies (or flies that look like bees?), which is generally a sign that the flower smells rank like old socks or sweat or something meaty. There’s a lot of that going on in this neck of the woods high desert.

I’m now on the hunt for a French tarragon plant, pretty sure I saw them at the local plant nursery. Out here it’s always the dodge-y (Russian?) one that grows bigger and better but doesn’t have anywhere near the aroma and flavor of the French. And I’m going to stick a couple more lavender plants around the yard, no such thing as too much lavender. If I ever wind up owning a place again (or at least feeling more settled) I’d do a ton of lavender and rosemary, they’re common here in commercial landscapes, every time I pass one I run my hand over it just for that wonderful smell.

Do you take every opportunity to stick your nose in random flowers, even/especially if you have no idea whether they have a scent? Have you been surprised by the smell of any plants, flowers or foliage recently? There’s a rose down the street that smells like Smarties candies taste, if that makes any sense at all. If it came in a bottle I’d buy it.

all images: mine


  • Koyel says:

    I stick my nose in unknown flowers ALL THE TIME (and usually end up with pollen on my nose…achoo!). I have some roses that smell like Froot Loops!

  • Portia says:

    WOW! Flowers are going mad for you. Excellent.
    I can still smell that wisteria near us in my mind. So good.
    Our area has been planting rosemary in public places, I too run my hands. It feels subversive to do it but the smell is gorgeous. I can’t cook with it anymore because the scent turns Jin’s stomach in enclosed apartment.
    Portia x

  • ElizaC says:

    Wisteria is so beautiful but we stay away from any plants that are invasive. We are already in a constant battle with ivy. I picked plants for our garden that are fragrant or connected with fragrances. Roses, lavender, thyme, immortelle and rock rose. I love running my hands through the immortelle!
    Fragrance is so important in roses – I have some David Austin roses that smell so amazing! One rose can scent our entire living room. The rose plants themselves have some issues with black spot (we don’t spray) but I don’t care since they produce such amazing flowers.

    • March says:

      At my last house I was on a never-ending battle with the English ivy, pulling it off tree trunks and keeping it out of the trees. Oh, your fragrant garden sounds absolutely lovely! I’m realizing I don’t know if I’ve smelled immortelle as a plant, I bet it’s grown somewhere here, the climate’s right, must investigate…

  • Tom says:

    I do stick my face into random flowers while on my perambulations- as a matter of fact I got busted for doing it. I was at some tony ‘do and was introduced to someone who recognized me from stooping over to smell the roses in the park on my way there. Said he’d always wanted to but never did. I told him “It sounds cheesy, but you should always stop to smell the roses” He agreed it sounded cheesy, but he did so in a charming way.

    • March says:

      I have been busted so many times for sniffing various plants and flowers, including more than once in someone’s yard, looking for the source of some awesome aroma. I think the people who are never tempted to stick their faces in a bloom are the weird ones.

  • Dina C. says:

    I love the smell of Wisteria, too, March! And like you, I’m always disappointed when roses have no scent. When I was at the family wedding 10 days ago, there were lots of beautiful rose arrangements on the tables. Fortunately, they did have a bit of scent. And the archway where the wedding ceremony was conducted was dripping with white orchids. Since we arrived early for photos, of course I went right up and gave them a hearty sniff: all real and they had a lovely delicate scent. I love your idea of rosemary and lavender plantings. They smell so good outdoors.

    • March says:

      Oooh, that wedding sounds gorgeous! Those orchids! The first time I saw a rosemary bush (in California) it BLEW my mind, I didn’t know rosemary could do that! Too much rain / cold? in D.C. for that, I think, but big lavender bushes here are definitely a thing.

  • Musette says:

    I’m one of the very few people (if not the only person) in this burg who actually smells flowers! Lilac season here is often very short (one year it was 1 day – we had one of those Climate Change heatwaves right as the lilacs were budding up – they popped…and were dead…in about 30 hours. Devastating). Anyhoo… narcissus. Yep. Some are astonishingly swoony. I only have one unscented roses ‘William Baffin’ which is one of the Polar Explorer series, bred to withstand Canadian winters (hardy to zone FOUR!) – it’s in the Vortex Lane and could. not. care. less. But I had to give up scent for color.
    You know I made a YUUUGE! mistake with a Chinese wisteria – and soon I will have to cut it down and replant it. Somewhere else.

    Like, maybe, China.

    • March says:

      Hahaha yeah wisteria’s a lifestyle choice and I only want to admire other people’s. Love the idea of a polar rose, now that makes sense, zone 4 whoa. But they need roses too… narcissus that’s the one I forgot! Most folk have zero idea they have a scent. And I remember that lilac travesty, that would have really upset me. They lasted for weeks here this year! I think because it was generally cool but not cold.

  • alityke says:

    If it smells I’ll stick my nose in it. Even if it doesn’t I always check.
    The hawthorn & blackthorn have finished now. I miss the rank/soapy Chanelesqueness! Beautifully bridal but most certainly not her first rodeo.
    We now have linden/lime trees doing their thing. Not as showy as the hawthorns but just standing under the branches is bliss!
    Wisteria needs planning & possibly succession planning in the north of England. Takes at least a decade to flower & even then it’s very shy!

    • March says:

      Ooooh, linden! I was on a linden kick for awhile, years ago, love that smell. Hawthorn is that buttered-feet smell I find compellingly weird. That’s interesting about wisteria, wonder if it’s too cold? Wisteria escaping into the woods here is a nightmare.

      • alityke says:

        Buttered feet….. that made me chuckle.
        Seems there are very few good linden perfumes.
        The wisteria is more a soil & wind thing I think. We have that heavy clay that sits around coal deposits. The winds either blow straight across from Scandinavia or Holland or from over the Pennines dumping a shed load of precipitation

        • March says:

          That’s interesting, thanks! Everywhere I’ve lived, wisteria is SO aggressive that I just assume it would do great everywhere outside of North and South poles…

  • cinnamon says:

    Back when I lived in London there was a house on my road that had honeysuckle and jasmine intertwined growing in the front area. Stopped every time. Love wisteria. Wish I could grow it but soil in my garden would need so much digging over etc it’s just not worth the trouble. Love you yellow roses.

    • March says:

      Ooooooh jasmine and honeysuckle would get me every time! What a heavenly combination of scent. Those yellow roses are here for about a week and then they’re gone, but they are amazing while they’re blooming!

  • Maya says:

    I have always loved flowers from the time I was a little girl – the look of them and the smell of them. It’s how I became interested in perfume. How wonderful to be able to smell flowers and to smell like them whenever you wanted to! Soliflores.

    • March says:

      Anita mentioned it above — I’m surprised at how few people are walking around smelling the flowers! I don’t know if it’s lack of curiosity, feeling embarrassed, or what. I am constantly sticking my nose into blooms, and have occasionally trespassed to smell something.

  • Sarah says:

    Sniff. Them. All!

  • Tara C says:

    I made the mistake of planting Chinese wisteria in my yard and yes it is very invasive, and not even as pretty as the regular purple kind. Why do garden centers even sell such things to poor unsuspecting homeowners? There oughta be a law.

    I also plant lavender and roses. Love the heavily scented ones like Double Delight, Mr. Lincoln and Tropicana. I sniff everything, especially if I smell something interesting wafting about that I can’t identify the source. There is something with tiny pink flowers blooming here now in Montreal that smells like a cross between lilac and jasmine. My favorite is dark purple lilacs but they’re done for the year here.

    • March says:

      I did a bit of reading and could never find anything that indicated which wisteria had a scent (the way you can with roses, for instance) and maybe it’s a random thing? I think wisteria and other invasives ought to come with some sort of special orange warning label, though, since probably a lot of people don’t even realize. Oooh, I’d be hunting those tiny pink flowers down! I’ve done some low-key yard trespassing on those missions…