Gilding the Lily – and March’s Winners!



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.

silk road

silk road, stankin’ up the joint!


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.


Orienpet 'Robina'

Orienpet ‘Robina’ a scent Godzilla!

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?

Flying Circus

Flying Circus – isn’t she a beauty?

  • Fleurious says:

    I LOVE lilies in the garden and in fragrance, and for awhile I was searching for that, ahem, perfect lily scent. From lilies I don’t get that rotting smell that can follow lilacs or scented stock, to me they are gorgeously lush and spicy, but still cool and elegant. I love The lily in Penhaligon’s Lily and Spice (not usually a Penhaligon’s fan, and sadly this is discontinued), also Le Labo Lys 41. I wanted to like FM’s Lys Mediterranee, but ocean spray (marine note) spoiled it for me. I also thought I would love Baiser Vole, but it seemed wan and department store generic to me, though I wonder if this is one I just can’t smell. Now my pursuit of fragrance is more meandering, and occasionally I find something really perfect, like Frederic Malle Iris Poudre. I will have to try Lush Deathand Decay…still mourning the loss of Lush Flying Fox (indoles galore) Jasmine shower gel.
    I have a few lilies in my garden (white orientals, a beautiful red native, and some Stargazers. The humming birds love them too and I only wish they lasted longer.

  • SublimiSomnium says:

    Love lilies, and yours are gorgeous!!! Thanks for sharing.

    Lately I’ve been obsessing a bit over Lush Death and Decay – addictive indolic lily.

  • Tiffanie says:

    Oh how I love lilies. Whenever I pass lilies growing outdoors or find cut flowers in a shop I stop and inhale. Thankfully I never get the “meat” note, just that narcotic floral spicy sweetness. I love the first Baiser Vole so now I need to seek out Lys Rose. When I smell Baiser Vole it is fabulous but definitely gives me a bit of nose-deadening anosmia for most other scents that lasts for several days. What a fragrance!

  • Tiara says:

    SO jealous of your lilies. We don’t have enough sun in our yard unfortunately. And if we did, the chipmunks, rabbits or deer probably would get to them before I ever had a chance to smell one.

  • HeidiC says:

    Lily is not a flower or scent I’m much of a fan of — a bit too much for me! If I’m in the right mood, I can do SL’s Un Lys or FM’s Lys Mediterranee, but I think that’s about the extent of my lily scents (outside of lily of the valley). But I’m glad you’re enjoying your garden so much this summer!

  • rosarita313 says:

    I love this post, thanks so much for the trip through your lily trip Ms A! I love lilies in the garden and have been looking at planting a few in a bare space that needs a perennial outside my front porch, so I’m glad to read about yours. In perfume, I can wear lily better than other Big White Florals but I still prefer them mixed with something else; Donna Karan Gold edp is gorgeous to me with the lily artfully offset by amber. Smells great all year but completely different in summer vs winter.

  • bevfred says:

    I love the way you write. You pull me into your life, which is good. I love lillies in the garden and even at home, visually. But I often find the fragrance overpowering.

    • Musette says:

      thank you so much! I agree- they can be overpowering. I just came in from the garden (tending King Solomon, who just opened up) – it really is narcotic out there!

      I’mo go look for a little sample of DKG and Un Lys in the Messy Armoire. <3

  • March says:

    I am so jealous of your lilies. I’m not especially partial to lily perfumes, but (like roses) I can’t get enough of the real thing. One of my earliest scent-memories is of our little church jam-packed with Easter lilies, a memory that still fills me with a flash of child-like joy, ya know?

  • Portia says:

    All the lilies, ALL THE TIME! Love them Musette.
    Portia xx

  • Akatchoom says:

    I just love this post, so so so much. It inspires me to plant some lilies in my neglected garden. The heaviness of lily feels like a down comforter, a weight that I crave even in the summer. I tend towards muguet more than Oriental, but I think that is just due to long-standing habit. Frankly, I would absolutely be down for a Liliam ‘Robina’ scent…I would just use it at home and listen to some gorgeous music while lying on pillows 🙂

  • I mostly just loved your post and beautiful pics! I’m a gardener so thank you! I’m mostly a Un Lys person (SL in all scents) myself, but lavender, not lilies does it for me. Lily may be one of the least-reached for in my perfumes but in nature–lovely and extravagant.

    • Musette says:

      okay. I’m embarrassed to admit this but I can’t even remember Un Lys! Must revisit! I’m glad you enjoyed the lilies. It’s like an opium den out in my garden right now!

  • Oh god, I remeber that checkerboard cake! It WAS a bitch as I remember, though not as bad as trying to de-bone a whole turkey, damn those Rombauer ladies!? Love Lily in scent, Lys Soleia from Guerlain and Un lys are the ones I reach for kost often, but the weather has to be really hot to have them bloom on my skin. Your lillies are girgeous!

    • Musette says:

      lol! a cookie version of that cake showed up in a friend’s Paris thread. Gave me hives just looking at it! Stupid cake. ;-D

  • Ellen M says:

    Love Love Love lily in the garden. Serge Lutens has Un Lys which is lovely. Donna Karan Gold has lily as the basic scent. My potted lilies haven’t bloomed yet, which is very strange. Maybe its been too hot.

    • Musette says:

      March introduced me to DK Gold eons ago. Before then I don’t think I’d given any thought to lily notes in perfumery. That one (DKG) is much-missed! Yikes! on the BV anosmia! Wonder what does it?

  • eldarwen22 says:

    Lily is more of those that I am iffy about in perfume. It seems so heavy. My chipmunks have eaten all of my stargazer lilies, so no stragglers in the garden this year. Stragglers are potent when in bloom. Definitely not for the house.