Summer Round-Up/Fall Favorites: A few favorites from 2011 ::PART TWO::

Origanum rotundifolium 'Kent's Beauty'
(Photo: © AJP 2011)
1.  Origanum rotundifolium 'Kent's Beauty', "Kent's Beauty Oregano".

Edible and beautiful, this newer variety of oregano is an excellent addition to the container garden.  It is great at playing the part of "spiller" in the proverbial pot combination recipe.  Like most oreganos it is strongly scented and spicy in taste.  It's also very drought tolerant, but can tolerate regular watering better than many of its cousins. 

The leaves are small, round, and rather grayish like a dwarf, weeping Eucalyptus in a way.  It cascades down the side of a pot or along the ground as a groundcover and is covered all summer from spring until frost in the most unique pendant flowers that remind of light fixtures in high-end furniture design shops.  The showy, large bracts house the tiny lavender flowers that add just the right amount of color to an already dramatic plant.  It's hardy from zone 7 south so can be grown as a perennial ground cover in the Washington area, but I think it's true value lies in its use a summer container combo plant.

Aster oblongifolius 'October Skies'
(Photo: © AJP 2011)
2Aster oblongifolius 'October Skies' 
(syn.: Symphotrichum oblongifolius 'October Skies), "October Skies Aromatic Aster".

I will admit first that I am not the biggest fan of asters.  I appreciate the usefulness of a drought-tolerant perennials that bursts into full bloom when most other flowering plants are slowing down for the growing season.  They're also great plants for attracting pollinators, butterflies, and other beneficial insects to your garden.  Yet many seem either weedy-looking, have gaudy, unattractive flowers, run uncontrolled or just flop over and look messy just when they should be putting on a show.

'October Skies' is a great selection of one of our native asters (to the east coast and midwestern prairires).  It's low-growing habit and compact size make it very easy to use in a mixed perennial border or on its own.  It forms a dome of flowers and foliage about two feet high which hides many of the unsightly, leggy stems associated with many taller asters and eliminates the need for staking.  In October, just as the name implies, it bursts forth with literally hundreds of lavender-blue flowers about an inch in width and seems to reflect the cool fall skies.  It's a truly tough-as-nails perennial that adds a lot of "oompf" to the garden without a lot of fuss.

Salvia guaranitica 'Argentine Skies'
(Photo: © AJP 2011)
3.  Salvia guaranitica 'Argentine Skies',
"Argentine Skies Anise Sage".

Two words.  Hummingbird Magnet.  This easy-to-grow Salvia of the same genus as the famous 'Black and Blue' is the more demure and significantly hardier cousin.  'Argentine Skies' truly is that magical sky blue color that is often so elusive in flowers.  Plant it with some dark contrast and watch how it just reflects the sunny blue skies above.  Though I am a big fan of 'Black and Blue', I think 'Argentine Skies' has a slight more refined effect in the garden.  It's just so dang pleasant.  And did I mention that the hummingbirds flock to it? 

It survives our winters in Washington easily with little protection and grows exuberantly in the heat of summer.  It can easily reach six feet tall by the beginning of July and will bloom nonstop from June until Frost.  If this rambunctious sage gets too big for its own good or starts to flop over in that most disagreeable way, you can always shear it down to a few nodes from the ground.  In my experience, if you cut it down to within about a foot of the ground in July it will quickly rebound and still ready about three feet and continue blooming barely missing a beat.  It forms a large clump that can be dug up and shared or divided if you want more of them.  It seems to be pretty easily hardy in zone 7 in a protected sunny location and is extremely drought tolerant.  It's not as common as 'Black and Blue', but it's worth the hunt!

Look for Salvia guaranitica 'Argentine Skies' among the annuals at your local specialty garden center and if you're willing to pay a little more for it, you can also order it from Plant Delights Nursery.

Taste of Fall: Honeycrisp Apples

Photo Source:  Three Springs Farms
"An apple a day keeps the doctor away" or so goes the old adage.  I have to admit that growing up I never ate a lot of apples.  I've never been a fan of the apples with mealier textures, but thankfully, along came the Honeycrisp apple.  They are tart, sweet with a tang, and best of all crunchy and not mealy at all, especially when they are in season.  Luckily for us, that season is now.  I make a point to buy honeycrisp apples every week at my local farmers market.  They are bit more expensive than other common apple varieties, but once you've tried them, you'll realize that Red Delicious is nothing in comparison.

A brief history of Honeycrisp apples:

The 'Honeycrisp' cultivar of the apple (Malus domestica) was developed first in seventies, but not released until 1991 after almost being thrown on the compost pile.  Thankfully, it has become one of the most popular and sought-after apple varieties on the market fetching slightly high prices than many other common apple varieties.  It developed at the Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station's Horticultural Research Center at the University of Minnesota.  The parents of the 'Honeycrisp' variety are unknown, but genetic testing has indicated that 'Keepsake' may well be one of the parents.  It's popularity in the US has soared and many programs are in place to convert failing orchards to growing this new extremely popular variety.  There are even plans underway in New Zealand to start growing Honeycrisps in the southern hemisphere to supply American consumers in the off-season.  That would be great news to my ears!

Now, I'd like to make a plug for my favorite local Honeycrisp apple farm.  Three Springs Farms near Gettysburg, PA sells top quality apples at several local farmers markets.  I make a point to visit them every week to stock up.  They are also my favorite source for local peaches and various vegetables and some delicious apple, pear, and peach butters!  You can even order some Honeycrisp apples directly from them on their website!

Now, go out and find some locally and sustainably grown Honeycrisp apples of your own and enjoy them while they are still in season!

Summer Round-Up: A few favorites from 2011 ::PART ONE::

For years now, I have given tours of Bartholdi Park that were focused on all my favorite plants.  I think that it's about time that I start writing about it so that more than the twenty or so people who go on the tour have the opportunity to hear (or ignore) what I have to say about my favorite plants.  I will start by explaining what usually makes a plant near and dear to my heart.  Usually, it's a vigorous plant that seems to be happy in most situations in our Washington, DC weather.  It doesn't require a lot of fertilizer, pesticides, trimming, babying, etc.  Basically, it does it's thing without a ton of attention from moi and looks fabulous doing so.  So, here a few that I have really loved lately:

Bulbine frutescens 'Hallmark'
(Photo: © AJP 2011)
1.  Bulbine frutescens 'Hallmark', "Orange Stalked Bulbine".  

This succulent from South Africa is real work horse of a tropical color plant in the garden.  It needs little to no water and loves the heat and doesn't seem to be affected by our horrible humidity in the slightest.  It is just a blooming machine with its starry yellow and orange flowers borne on delicate wands that wave in the breeze adding just a touch of drama to the summer garden.  

Bulbine is related to Aloe and a lot of other succulent species making it a great candidate for low-water gardening.  Prior to this year I had only grown it in succulent combination pots.  In a pot it is a great plant as it rarely needs to be watered.  This year I tried using Bulbine as a bedding plant.  It seems that as long as it has a lot of sun and good drainage you can't go wrong with it.

Bulbine frutescens 'Hallmark' is available by mail order from Bustani Plant Farms, a family-owned nursery in Oklahoma that specializes in lots of interesting and rare plants that are well suited to our hot, humid DC summers.  They are a great company and fun to do business with.  I can't say enough nice things about them.  Check out their page for Bulbine.

Malvaviscus drummondii 'Pam Puryear'
(Photo: © AJP 2011)
2.  Malvaviscus drummondii 'Pam Puryear', "Pink Turk's Cap" .   

This is certainly one of my favorite mallows (quite a statement from someone who's a big fan of the Malvaceae family, not even mentioning the fact that chocolate is a part of it).  It's a great herbaceous perennial in my garden.  It's said by some to only be hardy to zone 8, but it survived in a relatively unprotected location in my garden with just a light mulching of pine needles. 

It's a bit slow to emerge in the spring like many of its American mallow cousins, but it's worth the wait.  By halfway through the summer it has grown up to 5 feet high and about the same amount in width.  The flowers differ from the species (native to the southeastern United States) in that the vibrant red-orange color is replaced by a very pleasant salmon-pink.  As much as I love brilliant colors like scarlets and oranges, I have found that these softer pink colors are a bit more easy to work with in a garden design.  It seems to be happy with moderate moisture in a somewhat shaded location in the hottest of afternoons.  It begins blooming in early summer and continues nonstop until a hard frost.  Buy one, and plant it in a party shaded, evenly moist part of your garden and you won't regret it.  

Pink Turk's Cap is available by mail order from Bustani and Plant Delights.

Euphorbia cotinifolia 'Atropurpurea'
(Photo: © AJP 2011)
3.  Euphorbia cotinifolia 'Atropurpurea', "Caribbean Copperplant".

This is another great drought-tolerant, almost succulent plant great for adding summer color and drama to the garden.  This variety in particular seems to exhibit a denser and more saturated burgundy color than the species and many other varieties that I have grown in the past.  It is truly drought tolerant and needs little if any additional water throughout the growing season once it's had a chance to get established.  It can easily grow to 4 or 5 feet in one season and nearly as wide.  Flowers are white and pretty much insignificant.  It's species name cotinifolia refers to the similarity between copperplant and the Smokebush (Cotinus coggygria).  You really can't be this plant for low-maintenance and low-water foliage plants for dramatic summer impact in the sunny garden.  It's also available from Bustani.

Goodies from the Garden: Grecian Windflowers (Anemone blanda)

Anemone blanda 'Blue Shades'
One of my favorite early spring bloomers are Grecian windflowers or Anemone blanda.  I am particularly fond of the 'Blue Shades' mixture.  They bloom early in the spring usually starting in the first or second week of March and continuing easily for almost two months, when our hot weather begins to set in.  I think this fall I will try over-planting a patch of dwarf daffodils, Narcissus 'Tete-a-tete', with some 'Blue Shades' windflowers.

Windflowers can be purchased from many of the major bulb companies and planted in the fall when other fall-planted bulbs are planted.  I have found that like their large cousins, Anemone coronaria, I am most successful with windflowers when I soak their dime-sized tubers overnight before planting.  They are easy to poke in wherever you want them.  Just push your finger into the soil about 2 inches deep and pop it in.  Plant them in an area where they can naturalize and form a mat and you will be greeted with the cheerful blooms throughout the spring.  Hardy in zones 4-8.

Check it out:

    Fave Plant Rant: Edgeworthia chrysantha

    Edgeworthia gardneri
    Scientific Name:  Edgeworthia chrysantha (syn.:  Edgeworthia papyrifera), Edgeworthia gardneri

    Common Name:  Oriental Paperbush, Indian Paperbush

    Family:   Thymelaeaceae

    This is the first in a new series on entries for Horticouture.  People always ask me what my favorite plant is.  Well, that's like choosing your favorite child (more difficult for some mothers than others).  So, the "Fave Plant Rants" will showcase the plants that I would devote a place in my garden to if I had a limited amount of space.  

    The Oriental Paperbush and its close cousin, the Indian Paperbush are fantastic, yet almost entirely unknown shrubs for the garden.  Often they are called evergreen paperbushes, but in our temperate Washington, DC winters, they do eventually drop their leaves in the winter.  These gems are often available only from specialty mail-order catalogs and are rarely found outside the gardens of collectors and botanical gardens in the US.  However, a paperbush is certainly worth the effort to find and plant in your garden.  

    During the growing season, the paperbush exhibits deep green leaves with a bluish-silver cast to them that are long, rounded and almost resemble the foliage of a Rhododendron.  Although many would consider it a shrub to plant for spring interest, the foliage is actually very attractive and adds an interesting element of texture to any summer garden.  In the late fall or early winter in temperate climates the leaves will eventually turn a beautiful golden yellow color before dropping off the plant to reveal its unique habit with gracefully upward arching branches covered in attractive light grey bark.  

    After the leaves have senesced, the true gems of the paperbush are revealed.  Drooping fuzzy white clusters of white buds decorate every branch tip almost as if someone had decorated the shrub for the holidays.  One can't help but get a closer look to examine the buds and feel their silky texture.  They are a promise of the spring to come and you will find yourself checking them throughout the cold winter months for any sign of swelling.  

    Then, all of a sudden in late February (about the time that the witchhazels are blooming) you will notice the buds starting to perk up.  They quickly come to life and on one of those surprisingly warm early winter days the buds will burst open showing their creamy yellow throats and releasing a cloud of ecstasy-inducing fragrance into the garden.  The flowers will be buzzing with early honeybees and everyone who passes it will stop upon smelling the aroma and immediately begin a quest to find its source.  There are very few plants that possess such magical power to enchant the senses at a time of the year when we all need a break from the monotony of winter.

    Edgeworthias originate in the mountainous forests and shrubby slopes of eastern Asia and have long been in cultivation in China and Japan.  They prefer to be sited in rich garden soil that is slightly to moderately acid and rich in organic material.  Moderate, consistent but well drained moisture is best.  They are thought to be hardy from zone 7b to zone 10, with moderate success in colder portions of zone 7 and possibly protected garden situations in zone 6.  In some colder winter regions, plants may grow adequately, but flowering may be damaged by spring frosts.  Plant in spring and supply with an initial feeding of organic fertilizer added to the root zone to encourage adequate root growth before the onset of cold weather in fall.  Paperbushes are low-maintenance shrubs so even novice gardeners should have success with them.

    These fantastic specimens have only recently experienced some amount of popularity thanks to highest exaltations from many plant collectors and explorers.  Recently, some mail-order companies have begun to offer some very exciting selections that I can't wait to try myself.  Take the time to enjoy the links to more information included below.  

    Dan Hinkley's write-up on the genus Edgeworthia
    Botanical information from the original description of Edgeworthia
    Dave's Garden Entry for Edgeworthia chyrsantha (See who else is growing it!)

    Mail Order Companies that Offer selections of Edgeworthia:

    Welcome to the launch of Horticouture!

    Consider it a new beginning, a rebirth, or a pathetic second attempt at blogging.  Horticouture is the new and improved reincarnation of my previous blog of several years ago (Hortus odorifera).  I've uploaded a few posts from the old blog that are still relevant.  Enjoy!

    Oh an please feel free to send me your feedback.  I would love to hear what you have to say!

    Spring Fragrance

    Excuses about not blogging for a long time aside (blah blah blah....right?) I've decided to get this going again. Third time's the charm right? Aside from perfume news and reviews, which are still to come, I wanted to start up a new spring series about fragrant plants for the garden. As spring quickly approaches the weather becomes unpredictable, birds build their nests, and there's an explosion of color and scent in the garden. Although many spring flowers do not have a scent, there are usually varieties that do indeed have the added dimension of fragrance. In fact some of the most legendary and expensive ingredients in perfume come from spring flowers, while others are relatively unknown to most.

    (Photo above: Narcissus 'Brackenhurst' at the US Botanic Garden -- not a significantly fragrant daffodil, but a great early show-stopper)

    1) Narcissus x odorus flore pleno (Double Campernelle Daffodil, Queen Anne's Double Jonquil)

    The Campernelles are some of my favorite daffodils when considering fragrance. Anyone interested in scent in the garden needs to have at least a clump of them. One of the earliest daffodils to pop up in the spring, they started blooming here in Washington, DC in the second week of March. The are about 10 to 12 inches tall and the golden yellow flower can vary from a double cup to a yellow rose shape with many flowers on one stem. It's great to cut a few of them to put them in a vase and bring them indoors where you can really savor their sweet scent of honeyed musk. You really can't beat them.

    Available from: Brent & Becky's Bulbs, Colorblends

    2) Mahonia aquifolium (Oregon-Grape)

    This relative of the hollies starts to bloom extremely early in the spring in Washington, DC (this year as early as early February) and they continue to bloom for a long period of time as long as the weather remains cool. The shrubs can be otherwise rather coarse in texture, but the flowers are their truly redeeming quality. The flowers have a sweet fragrance that is reminiscent of jasmine and lemon. It has a sugary tang to it and I personally cannot walk by a Mahonia without plunging my nose into one of the panicles of flowers.

    3) Narcissus 'Carlton' (Carlton Daffodil)

    Carlton is one of the most common daffodils and the quintessential daffodil that is the first to come to mind. It' s a great perennializer, especially in southern gardens. It's a large-cupped canary yellow daffodil that blooms early and profusely. Carlton is truly a sign that spring has arrived. This is the daffodil that lines highways and you find growing on old homesteads long after the homes gone. It's also the daffodil that you find in your grocery stores and sold by the American Cancer Society during Daffodil Days. It also has a slight fragrance as well, which is much softer compared to the Campernelles, but still worth mentioning. It has a warm vanilla sugar scent. Place a vase of unopened Carlton buds on a table in your house and by morning you'll have a vase of glowing daffodils fully opened and a wonderfully-scented room.

    Available from: Brent & Becky's Bulbs, McClure & Zimmerman, and Colorblends

    Many more to come!

    My Own Sugar Scrub Recipe

    I've decided to post my sugar scrub recipe. It's extremely simple, but very effective. You should note that it is only really appropriate for body exfoliation. It's too rough for the face. The recipe is not a science and it is really up to you to determine the relative amounts of ingredients. The ingredients are:

    Turbinado Sugar (coarse organic sugar)
    Light Brown Sugar
    Carrier Oils (I prefer Vitamin E-enriched Sweet Almond Oil)
    Essential oils

    Now a few tricks to it. I usually make it fairly concentrated. It lasts longer this way and dilutes when you use it in the shower. There's no exact amount of essential oils to use. You usually only need about 4 or 5 drops of essential oil per 1 ounce of the carrier oil, but I find that adding more increases the fragrance and aromatherapy effect of the scrub. Use whatever oils you like, but my personal favorite is a combination of lemon (Citrus limon) and lavender (Lavendula angustifolia). You can formulate your scrub to treat a variety of skin ailments, for example acne can be treated with the essential oils of lavender, neroli, tea tree, clove bud, cedarwood, rosemary, and many others. This information is readily available online and many essential oils as well as the rest of the ingredients are available at organic markets, health stores, and any other purveyor of botanical health products. In Washington, DC area Whole Foods and Mom's Organic Markets carry a broad range of the ingredients. Of course, use organic ingredients when possible.

    I usually use about 5 ounces of the carrier oil, to which I add about 30-40 drops of essential oils (of the desired blends). I then add both grades of sugar in equal proportions and keep stirring the mixture until I reach the desired consistency. I prefer a thick, but moist mixture that doesn't appear runny, but this is just a personal preference.

    The scrub usually works best after you've used your soap and while you are standing in a hot shower. Using it after showering helps to return your skin to its preferred pH range and leaves more of the fragrance of the EO's on the skin. Be sure to store the scrub in an air/water-tight container and use some sort of scoop or spoon when using (the bacteria on your hands can speed the decomposition of the scrub mixture).

    Hermessence Brin de Réglisse - New Fragrance

    Jean-Claude Ellena's newest creation for Hermés, Brin de Réglisse is the newest (and 7th) addition to the Hermessence line. On the heels of such beautiful creations as Paprika Brasil and Osmanthe Yunnan, Brin de Réglisse is said to be an atypical lavender perfume that is not overpowered by being combined with heady florals, but instead Ellena tried to create a drier, cleaner lavender fragrance. He was inspired by the strong scent of lavender one would smell in Provence in midsummer. Ellena said he wanted a more clean, stream-lined lavender fragrance. Other notes include orange blossom, hay, and licorice (hence the name Brin de Réglisse, or "a bit of liquorice"). Like the other Hermessence fragrances, they will only be available at Hermés boutiques and will cost 149 euros (about $211.00) for a 100 mL bottle. I'm not sure exactly on the US price, but that I will update this post as soon as I know the exact cost. Hermessence fragrances can also be purchased in sets of four 15 mL vials for 95 euros (about $135.00), for which you may select four of the same fragrance or any combination of the seven Hermessence fragrances. None the less I suggest you visit your nearest boutique and check it out. If you are in the D.C. area, the local Hermès boutique is located in the Fairfax Square Shopping Center in Vienna, Virginia. (They are usually quite generous with samples as well)

    Books You Need to Read....

    There are three books that I've read lately that I feel I need to share. For all of you true fragrance freaks like me they are your required summer reading.

    The first is the Secret of Scent by fragrance biophysicist Luca Turin. Luca Turin began writing perfume reviews almost on a whim many years ago in Paris. Always a sucker for any random tidbit of information he could get his hands on he started uncovering some discrepancies in the way the scientific world looks at the sense of smell. Through much thorough research and a lot of stone-throwing from the scientific community, Turin has reintroduced and expanded upon theories of a vibrational mechanism for the sense of smell. The book explains a bit of his background and the story of how he made his contribution to the theory and explains the theory in a fair amount of detail. It can be quite dense if you don't have much of a science background, but it's a good read nonetheless. The Secret of Scent by Luca Turin is available from Barnes & Noble for $23.95.

    Secondly, the Emperor of Scent by New York Times Perfume Critic Chandler Burr. Burr met Turin by chance in a railway terminal several years ago. After much small talk, they struck up a conversation about Turin's work with smell. Burr was interested and as a reporter investigated the theory and Turin's story. Unfortunately, Turin's adversaries were unwilling to give their side of the story, so Burr's book is mostly a chronicle of Turin's story. A worthy companion to Turin's book, it should not be overlooked just because one has also read the Secret of Scent. The Emperor of Scent by Chandler Burr is available from Barnes & Noble for $13.95.

    The last is The Fragrant Garden by Julia Lawless. The books is a great read for anyone interested in Gardner and/or perfume and fragrance. It includes many sections with widely varying topics. It's not just and encyclopedia of fragrant plants which a lot of fragrance gardening books are, but it includes much history about the history of fragrant gardening, exotic as well as domestic plants, information about essential oils and aromatherapy, and even some recipes and advice for the use of fragrant herbs. A great read for anyone who is interested in this blog. It is available from Barnes and Noble for $27.50.

    Treasures from Barneys: Comme des Garçons Series 3 - Incense: Kyoto & Avignon

    Last weekend I also got a chance to try out the five fragrances in Comme des Garçons Incense Series. The series was released in 2001 after the 2 previous series (Leaves and Red), which in my opinion were far less interesting that the incense series. Although they have been out a while and I've always wanted to smell them I never had the chance as I don't know of any places in Washington, DC that carry them. Well, that all changed when I (finally) got to go to Barneys in New York.

    The five fragrances in the incense series (Kyoto, Avignon, Jaisalmer, Ouarzazate, and Zagorsk) were all inspired by five different holy sites representing different religions and regions of the world and the fact that nearly all religions have a history of the use of incense in holy buildings for both meditative purposes and to ward of the evil spirits. Of all five, Kyoto and Avignon were easily my favorites.

    Kyoto: Inspired by the use of incense in both Buddhist and Shinto religious practices and the humility and meditative culture of the monks of Kyoto, Kyoto, the fragrance, is certainly light than some of the other incense fragrances in the series. I think that this may be due in part to its somewhat more "green" qualities and that I find it to be possibly the most exotic. The notes in Kyoto are vetiver, patchouli, coffee, amber, incense, cypress oil, teak wood, cedar, and immortelle. The initial burst of the fragrance is a inspiring rush of coffee and patchouli, however these soon give way to the dark, "incensy" woods at its heart. The combination of patchouli, coffee, and cedar probably explain why it's my favorite of the line.

    I highly recommend Kyoto to anyone interested at all in incense fragrances. It truly will make you feel as if you are sitting in a zen garden in a Buddhist monastery. So spray a little on, close your eyes and feel the calm take over. (While you're at it check out some of Kyoto's famous gardens)

    Avignon: Avignon, in the region of Provence-Alpes-Côte-d'Azur in the South of France, was once the religious center of Europe as it belonged to the Roman Catholic Popes for 400 years (1349-1791). In the heart of Provence, its beautiful location on the banks of the Rhone River and its stunning papal palaces make it quite an inspiration for all who visit. It's no wonder that a city with such a wealth of Roman Catholic city should inspire a fragrance based on incense. Comme des Garçon's Avignon is a beautifully respectful and smoky fragrance that is not all dull as one may expect. Instead, like Giorgio Armani's Bois d'Encens, Kyoto is a remarkably accurate yet wearable (for men at least) recreation of the incense used in the Catholic churches of Europe to this day. The notes of Avignon include Roman camomile, ambrette, myrrh, cistus oil, elemi, incense, patchouli and vanilla. Unlike Kyoto, there is no initial burst when one applies Avignon. Instead, the smoky incense scent is present and one imagines that a priest has just walked by on his procession. The top notes progress into even deeper and darker notes and one can't help but think reverently about the grand cathedrals of France and Italy. Where Kyoto inspires a sort of connection to the peace of nature, Avignon inspires a a feeling of connection to the heavens above.

    Note: If you're not finding yourself anywhere near a store that carries Comme des Garçons, look for them online at LuckyScent ($62 for 50ml or try a 1/32oz sample for $3)

    Treasures from Barneys: L'Artisan Parfumeur: L'Été en Douce

    Last weekend, during my most recent trip to New York, I made my first visit to Barneys. Despite my having been to New York many many times, I had never actually made the trip to the flagship store on Madison Avenue. I have to say I have never had such a pleasant shopping experience. Barneys makes Saks and Neiman Marcus look like JCPenny. It's a beautiful store with the best customer service I've ever had. The fragrance counters are especially great. The SA's are awesome and very helpful (My favorites were Lawrence Applebaum at the L'Artisan counter and Tyler Mayo. I'm sure many of you know of the great lines that Barneys carries, but for those of you who don't I'll list just a few: all of L'Artisan, Parfums de Rosine, i Profumi di Firenze, Frédéric Malle, Serge Lutens, Comme des Garcons, Carthusia; not to mention a full Le Labo boutique. All in all, it makes other department stores look dull and uninteresting and I'm finding myself wanting to move to NYC just to be near it.

    While at Barneys I did manage to snag two fragrances for my collection and add two others that I plan to get (when I can afford them):

    L'Été en Douce: First, I bought L'Été en Douce by L'Artisan Parfumeur. It used to be called Extrait de Songes, but was pulled from the market after a trademark dispute with Annick Goutal (who first released Songes). It has been relaunched in the classic L'Artisan bottle and is currently only available at Barneys in New York under the new name "L'Été en Douce". It is available in a 3.4 oz bottle only for $125.

    I have to admit that this fragrance is quite out of my normal preferences for fragrances, but I am wholly in love with it. Literally translated from French it means "the summer in soft", but the idea of it is that it is meant to portray that soft fragrant smell of early summer. This it certainly does. Upon applying to the skin, first one notices the vibrant top notes of rose essence and mint leaves much like the crisp fresh, but fragrant scent of the morning mist in early summer. The top notes fade into the heart notes of orange blossom water, linden, and fresh hay and eventually the memorable base of white woods and musks emerges. The combination is magical and although I often think orange blossom and rose are used far too often, it is not overtly floral. The floral notes are well-balanced with the hay, linden, and base notes. When wearing the fragrance I can't help but picture fields of Provence in June. The image is so strong you can smell the lavender, even though I'm not sure it's even a true note in the fragrance (it's not listed as one). Perhaps, it's the combination of mint (both in the Lamiaceae family) and some of the other notes. Nonetheless, next time you want to imagine you are basking in the sunlight in the south of France, just spritz yourself a few times with L'Été en Douce. (More info and reviews: Now Smell This, osMoz)

    Reviews of others are soon to follow!

    Fragrance Notes: Patchouli

    This is the first of many posts to come about plants that are commonly used in perfume. I think it's important for us fragrance fanatics to have some idea of where the smells we wear come from.

    The Basics:
    Scientific Name: Pogostemon cablin
    Family: Lamiaceae (Mint Family)
    Origin: East Asia

    The common name "Patchouli" originates from the Tamil language from India and Sri Lanka. The roots of the name are the Tamil words "patchai" (meaning "green") and "ellai" (meaning "leaf"). The plant has been used for centuries for perfume among other things.

    Originally, patchouli was used in East Asia both for its scent and its health benefits such as its use in Japan and Malaysia for the treatment of poisonous snake bites and its widespread use in Asia for aromatherapy to promote mental clarity and relaxation.

    In the 18th century, Patchouli was introduced to the west by Chinese silk traders transporting silk to the Middle East. The strong scent and oils of patchouli are known to have strongly-moth repellent properties and were packed with silk cloth to repel moth infestations during transit. The silk and leaves eventually found their way to Europe, where patchouli was considered to be a scent of luxury, likely because of the association with expensive Chinese silks. This trend has continued in the perfume industry to this day.

    During the war in Vietnam, American soldiers would use patchouli to mask the smell of the graves of those killed in combat. At home in the US, patchouli simultaneously became very popular with the "hippies" and war protesters of the day. War demonstrators would scent themselves with patchouli to represent the fallen soldiers in Vietnam. It is also undeniable that another reason for its surge in popularity was the ability of its strong scent to cover the scent of marijuana smoke. It has experienced a somewhat negative connotation in the US as it is often associated with "hippie" culture as it was often used in the place of bathing.

    Today, patchouli is one of the main ingredients of about one third of the world's luxury fragrances and is most common in chypre, woody and oriental fragrances. Fragrances containing patchouli include famous fragrances such as Anateus and Chance by CHANEL, Habit Rouge and Jicky by Guerlain, Eau d'Orange Verte by Hermés, and PRADA Woman. In some, it is the featured ingredient, such as Patchouli Patch from L'Artisan Parfumeur of Paris and Patchouli Pure from the Fresh Index line of fragrances. The oils can often be bought from most essential oil retailers and blend well with sandalwood, lime, and ylang ylang. In most recent years patchouli has fallen slightly out of vogue in Europe and the US, but is still very common in Asia and Latin America.

    It is also used commonly in East Asian incense and for the scenting of household products such as paper towels, detergents, and air fresheners. The essential oils derived from the plant are used by some in herbal remedies and the scent is claimed to promote relaxation as it is said to promote mental balance and has a positive effect on emotional sensitivity. The oils are said to be effective in treating acne and skin inflammations. They are also said to have antifungal and insecticidal properties.

    Today, patchouli is grown mainly in the East and West Indies commercially. Most distillations are done in China, Indonesia, and India. The oils are easily obtained from the dried leaves via steam distillation. The major chemical component of the oils is patchoulol, which like many terpenes is a complex organic molecule thought to be responsible for giving patchouli its characteristic scent (and flavor if Patchouli were edible).