Walk through the garden on any Spring day and you are immediately taken by the rose fragrance. Not least of all roses bred by Delbards in what I like to call my French garden; Belle Parfume, Dioressence, Belle du Seigneur, Chatreuse de Parm, Grand Siecle, Mitsouko, Sour Emmanuelle, Cote d’Azure, Lousie de Amade, Madame Delbard, Chateau Versailles, Parfum de Paris and Couer de Neige. The collection would be complete with the addition of Avignon, Marcel Proust and Blue Emotion. Perhaps next year.
Unfortunately, I’m away from the garden and will miss the blooms opening of several roses that have a moderate to strong enticing scent. Mitsouko, Souvenir Louis d Amade, Quicksilver, Wedgwood, Sonia Rykiel, Diana Princess of Wales, and Kiss me Kate roses were beginning to bloom and add fragrance to the air this week.
These distinctive roses are growing in the garden. and I’m pleased to say they all have a proper fragrance. The Poet’s Wife, Emilien Guillot, Abraham Darby, Addictive Lure, Best Friend, Blue Moon, Earth Angel, Ebb Tide, Fiona’s Wish, Vol de Nuit, Buff Beauty, Fragrant Plum, Father of Peace, Full Sail, Mothers Love, Parole, Perfume Passion, Pierre de Ronsard, Perfume Perfection, Sharifa Asma, Princess Charlene of Monaco, Summer Song, The Children’s Rose, Valencia, Wollerton Old Hall, Heaven Scent and Poetry rose. Many of the more old fashioned roses have a stronger scent and this fragrance quality has been added in recent years in the hybridising of modern roses.
Stopping to smell the roses, what is it that we are smelling? The prominent scent associated with roses is the ancient damask rose fragrance. Considered the standard in the fragrance industry and said to be the most fragrant of all rose species. Garden roses will have a different scent although some will resemble a damask rose or tea rose scent.
Gertrude Jekyll rose is consistently ranked as the most scented modern English rose, and the petals are often used in the perfume industry for essential oils and fragrance production. This rose has a powerful scent varying from sweet to traditional damask rose essence. Grand Siecle is another older style rose that I have been growing that has one of the most potent perfumes with a rich smell of rose oil and added berry notes.
Rose fragrance is made of several rose scents; Damask, Orris, Violets, Apple, Cloves, Nasturtiums and within each category are variations. Such as vanilla, green tea leaves, cloves, raspberry, bay, spice, musk, parsley, wine, lily of the valley, linseed oil, fern, moss, hyacinth, orange, anise, honey, marigold, banana, apricot, quince, geranium, peppers, melon, myrrh, honeysuckle, moss, hyacinth, and raspberry. As in wine tasting, you may find it an exciting challenge to differentiate the fragrance notes in roses.
Facts about Rose Fragrance
The first blooms of summer are the most fragrant.
Early morning is the best time for the perfume of roses as it is strongest at this time. Although some roses have a scent at midday and others late in the afternoon.
Warm humid weather will intensify the rose fragrance.
A rose’s perfume will be heightened before a storm.
The fragrance of a fully opened rose is different from the scent of a rosebud.
Roses have perfume to show they are ready for pollination.
Some half-opened roses have the strongest scent.
Rose scent is made of 1 to 300 chemicals that will determine the rose scent; resins, oils, phenols and fatty acids all contribute to the character of the perfume.
Rose oil or attar of rose essence is the colourless oil, distilled from fresh petals of Rosa Damascena and Rosa Gallica and other species of the rose family Rosaceae.
Fragrance varies in different coloured roses; dark coloured roses often have a stronger perfume, more petals and a thick velvety touch. Whites and yellows often have a lemon, or violet scent whereas bright orange and bright yellow roses smell of cloves, nasturtiums and fruits.
Rose scent may differ if you smell the fragrance more than once and the perfume will dissipate as the blooms age.
Some smells in rose fragrance are not pleasant individually but combined create an enticing fragrance. Each type of scent will evaporate differently. For example, clove evaporates 36 times more slowly than citrus, so once you pick up a citrus scent it can disappear and the clove scent appears later.
Although the perfume in roses is from the petals some roses have a scent from the yellow stamens that smell of musk and cloves.
70% of the rose oil in the world comes from Bulgaria followed by Turkey, Iran and Morocco, limited amounts from Grasse and more recently from China.
Rose oil is extracted from the petals with alcohol or through distillation. True rose oil is expensive as it takes about 250 pounds of petals to make only 1 ounce of oil, that’s 115 kgs to make just 29 mls of oil approximately.
History, Myths and Legends about Rose Scent
The Greek Goddess of Love, Aphrodite, was called the creator of the rose, her lover Adonis was mortally wounded when hunting a wild boar and she hastened to his side and from the mixture of his blood and her tears grew a superb, fragrant, blood-red rose.
In ancient Indian literature, the rose symbolises beauty and creation. Vishnu, is the preserver and protector of the universe. formed his bride, Lakshmi, from the 108 large and 1,008 small rose petals.
The word ‘rose’ originated when Flora, the Goddess of Flowers, was in pain upon being struck by Cupid’s arrow, so was unable to pronounce the word Eros properly. The sound was “ros”. From this, the word “rose” became a synonym for Ero. In Rome and Greece, it was the symbol of youth, vitality, love, beauty and the abundance of nature.
Roses cultivation originated in Persia in the 8th century, along with an extensive rosewater trade.
Rosewater was traded from 810 BC in Shiraz, Persia, and exported to China and throughout the modern Middle East.
Rosewater was used in cooking and medicine, and prized for its anti-inflammatory, antiseptic and skin-nourishing properties.
In the end, the rose fragrance is elusive and, at the same time, evocative and alluring. Not everyone smells rose fragrance in the same way. It can be mysterious and depend on your nose and each rose plant’s growing conditions as to the fragrance’s strength. I am often surprised that I can’t smell a rose in the garden yet when cut and inside in a vase, the perfume fills the room.
David Austin and his rose hybridiser Michael Marriott (often referred to as the “rose nose”) lifelong work was developing roses with the colour, form, and fragrance of older rose classifications with the consistent repeat blooming ability and disease resistance of modern roses. We are fortunate indeed to be the beneficiaries of their work and to have a vast array of roses that are at once highly perfumed, strong and healthy and continue to repeat bloom all season. I, for one, am glad of this or I would miss seeing the roses altogether. For more information on the damask roses and their fragrance, visit an older post- Vallee des Roses Morocco
Title quote by William Shakespeare
Content Di Baker 2021
Images all in the garden 2021