Before I start yapping away, let me tell you the winners of Soft Surroundings L are Gladys Stevens and Tandaina. Gmail your ol’ evilauntieanita and I will get your info over to March.
Okay! on to LILIES!
I first came upon the word ‘cockaigne’ back in the 70s in one of the many editions of The Joy of Cooking. Pre-Google meant I had to LOOK IT UP IN A (gasp!) DICTIONARY! Current Wikipedia defines it as “a land of plenty in medieval myth, an imaginary place of extreme luxury and ease” – and at one point I could swear Irma & Miriam Rombauer talk about ‘gilding’ the lily’ (there is some absolutely insanely difficult checkerboard cake that I would rather fight a velociraptor than try to attempt to make).
Now, whenever I am working around Oriental/Orienpet lilies in bloom I think of the word ‘cockaigne’. Fragrant lilies are just absurd. They are lush, indolent and indolic, gilded in golden fragrance and to work in a border with a bunch of, say, blooming Silk Road lilies is to tip perilously towards narcosis.
I have been in a mild stupor for the past few days, as the heat and humidity pops open the swollen buds of the many heavily scented lilies in my garden. It really is narcotic – heavy yet elusive. Walk right up to a fully-open flower and you might not smell it. Something in the flower seems to induce anosmia – at least in me. But on the wind? O.M.G. I have one Orienpet, ‘Robina’, that you can smell from 200′ away (yes. TWO HUNDRED FEET). I cut a gorgeous bloom and brought it indoors but I have to put it in the dining room, next to the window that has an exhaust fan – it’s that strong. Originally I had it in the bedroom but it gave me nightmares and a near asthma attack! That sounds like I don’t like lilies – wrong! I worship at their bulby little feet. But they can be knockouts!
A budding perfumista friend and I walked through my garden, admiring the lilies, then came inside for some lily perfume testing. She sampled Malle’s Lys Mediterranee, Van Cleef & Arpels Lys Carmin and Cartier Baiser Vole Lys Rose. “none of these smell exactly like any of your lilies!!!” she crowed, as if she’d caught the perfumes out in a lie!. LOL! None of them could ever smell exactly like a lily because Lily is a tough, rough row to hoe. As cultivated as the genus is, it is still a very earthly, natural scent, elusive as so many over-fragranced plants can be (that ‘anosmia’ again – violets will blow your scent receptors out as well). If you really deconstruct the scent of Oriental lilies, for example, you will find a nice sub strata of rotting meat. Lys Mediterranee has a meaty smell (often described as ‘ham’) but makes no real attempt to go beyond the basic idea of an Oriental/Orienpet lily – and thank you for that, Mr. Malle. I prefer artificiality in perfume – what I love most about my beloveds Chanel No5 and Amouage Gold is, first and foremost, they smell like perfume! If I want actual flowers I will go into the garden. I am in thrall to the Cartier because it smells like the idea of a lily in bloom on a cool day, green stems and all. It is an elegant, refreshing scent, imminently wearable. As much as a adore all my Big Scent Lily Monsters, I couldn’t get close enough to smell anything green on them if you paid me! They are not your Girl Next Door flowers – lilies really are to be worshiped, with me crawling on all fours, daring to touch the hem of their leaves.
We are having a couple of really cool days here (60s!) which makes working in the borders a bit less narcotic. But these fragrant behemoths still put out a powerful wallop of perfume. I was in the back border, ripping out Creeping Charlie and all of a sudden my mind went blank. I was riding a scented cloud and for a moment or two, the world was my perfumed oyster and I had no idea where I was. Then the wind shifted and I was able to get back to work! I am happy to say that none of the lily perfumes I wear have that effect! Can you imagine? Sitting in a meeting, stoned on scent….and you have no idea why you’re at that table, let alone what anybody is talking about! Lilium ‘Robina’ would probably get you fired. And she would laugh in your face as you zoned out again, forgetting why you were packing up all those shoes under your desk.
The closest any of my lilies come to a wearable perfume version of themselves is my beloved ‘Flying Circus’ – this double Oriental has a light, lemony scent (still liliyfied, though) – that smells like an elegant edt (vaguely Chanel 1932-ish). This is one I could actually wear – but I am happy to just look at it because it is gorgeous. It’s the visual ‘Cockaigne’! The others can stay on their stalks and I will be content to enjoy them from a bit of a distance.
How do you feel about lilies? In the garden? In perfume?