Human Flower Project

Speak, Fragrance

76 readers divulged which fragrances inspire, relax and agitate them. It turns out that scent is a window on the spirit.


Rosa Metz and waning roses

Photo: Mary Annette Pember

Everyone’s entitled to his or her secrets. But there are other parts of interiority we’re more than happy to share; it’s just that no one ever asks about them.

Stop. No. Please don’t recount your dreams!

Instead, we asked a bunch of very interesting people about their favorite fragrances out of mere curiosity, and to our great surprise, nearly everyone responded. As intimate and generally unspoken as our olfactory lives are, most people were quite forthcoming, some very energetically so, about botanical scents.

A generous 76 people in ten countries replied, many sending along images too. And while we won’t attempt to summarize their fascinating and very diverse answers (we hope you’ll enjoy reading them all through, below) we can’t resist a few scent-sations.

Lots of us are hard-wired for honeysuckle. This sweet flower is adored by men and women from many countries. For lots of folks, it’s happily associated with childhood. Ann Lansing, of Asheville, North Carolina, writes, “It reminds me of the onset of warm weather and summer which I love.  I used to love to drive by myself with all the windows down on warm evenings and smell the honeysuckle.  I also love to open up the bloom and sip the nectar.”

Maria Henson writes, “Fragrance = memories.” And it seems that’s true. For even though we only asked people to list three botanical fragrances and their preferred cologne or perfume, many, many folks poured out associations with the past.

“I loved the smell of lilacs that grew next to my grandma & grampa’s morning porch,” writes Jacque Wurzelbacher of Chicago.  Cinnamon reminds Kim Lehman of Christmases in rural Pennsylvania. India Flint writes from Australia, “Golden calendula has me back at age four, pencil in hand undertaking my first botanical drawing under the guidance of my mother.”

Others were inspired less by homey scents than distant ones, summoning thoughts of what might have been. DD of Arlington, Massachusettes, remembers pineapple sage.  “We once got such a plant at a nursery in Austin, and then left it out on the porch at a place near West Lake Hills where we were staying, and the next morning it had been nipped away by a deer. I don’t think I’ve smelled pineapple sage since then, but I remember it as something delicious.”


Magnolia blossom, fragrance badge of the Old South

Photo: Felder Rushing


Several people favored local fragrances with a kind of regional pride. For Wendy Cowling of New Zealand, it’s eucalyptus. For Felder Rushing of Mississippi, it’s magnolia blossom: “because I am a Southerner and it is the most exotic flower and fragrance native to the Deep South.” Rushing, a true fragrance connoisseur, also expressed delight with Voodoo lily, (Amorphophallus ‘Konjac’), “its hair-raising stink that brings all my fleeing instincts into full bore.”

There are many telling and intriguing admissions here – the happily married man whose head still turns when he smells “Design,” the perfume worn by an old sweetheart; the conviction that flowers smell stronger when light shines on them; the determination to wear a perfume because of its expense; the savoring of burning marijuana leaves.

We hadn’t realized until undertaking this human flower project how many people are anti-perfume. “I feel that scents can violate people’s ‘spaces’ just as noise can,” writes Delphine Hirasuna. “I don’t want to sit on a bus with someone holding a boom box, nor do I want to be next to someone doused in cologne.”

Many people sighed dreamily over earthy scents, of lichen, turned-over soil, compost, and rotting leaves. Two of our respondents have actually lost their sense of smell. Please read on to discover how they manage in a scented world.

Judy Glattstein’s sumptuous reply suggests how starved most of our olfactory lives have been. She writes of her determination to smell Crocus longiflorus, “a winter-blooming species. Weather too chilly to notice when it flowers. If I kneel in homage, cup my hands around the blossom and exhale gently, my breath warms the flower sufficiently that I can appreciate the violet-like fragrance.” Thank you, Judy, and all who were kind enough to reply.

India Flint said that our question had “opened a Pandora’s box.” We think so too, India. And do you notice how much better the room smells now?


”. . . late irises / shuck off their thin rag-paper wrappings / and stand like roosters while their petals blow.”

words by John Malcolm Brinnin from “Cape Ann: A View”

Illustration by Tom Daley

What are your three favorite botanical scents?

What perfume or cologne do you prefer (None is an interesting answer).

(Here are all the replies, in order of their arrival)

David N. Meyer, Sherman Oaks CA

I think smell is my least acute sense. So my answers are limited, I fear.

Favorite scents:

Sage (growing in the mountains) especially after it rains

Pine sap

(I’m not being facetious) Marijuana - I love the smell of marijuana leaves.

Perfume or cologne: None.

Carol Hanner, Thomasville, North Carolina

My favorite botanical scents?

1. Honeysuckle

2. Gardenia

3. Lavender

(I’m so Southern)

My current favorite perfume?

Queen of Egypt (bought at a perfume shop in Egypt)

Tom Daley, Cambridge Massachusetts

Salt marsh hay, especially at low tide in estuaries of Essex and Ipswich Bays

Basil in a container pot on a rooftop garden

Iris in the strip at the end of the driveway before the raspberry cane

Lavender essential oil


Sweet Alyssum, Photo by Margaret Adie

Margaret Adie,  Austin Texas

1. Lavender, lichen, sweet alyssum

2. Red Cherie by Thymes

Bostjan Burger, Ljubljana, Slovenia

Lavender, Pine ... and he, he… garlic when hungry and on Pizza…and my wife is out of town.

Cologne? I don’t use it too often… no favorite… only “mother nature.”

here is me after hiking and climbing

whole day in a mountain forest…pure mother nature


Bostjan Burger wrapped in in favorite scent, the forest

Photo: Bostjan Burger

Russell Bowes, London UK

Oooooooh surveys. We like!

A waft of Night Scented Stock (Matthiola bicornis)

The smell of a very ripe strawberry

Roasting coffee beans

If I’m allowed a fourth, I’d have to say the smell of a freshly lit joint!

Current favourite aftershave:

Penhaligon’s “Quercus” (difficult to describe but I’d say “woody with

cinnamon and undertones of vanilla)

Richard R. Oswald, Langdon, Missouri

Freshly turned earth when it first comes to life in the spring-

Fourth cutting alfalfa in the barn-

Pollinating corn immediately after a rain-

Armani Code (all the women in my family tell me I smell good when I use it)

Wanda Gamble

1. Lavender, Bergamont, Lemon

2. Channel No. 5

P.S. Lemon verbena

M A Newcomer, Boise, Idaho

1.  A list of three favorite botanical scents: rosemary, lavender, lemongrass

2.  The name of your current favorite cologne or perfume. No can do.

Nicholas Read, Cambridge MA USA

Lavender, Lilac, Grass

Lavender water (Caswell Massey of Crabtree & Evelyn)

Alejandro de Avila, Oaxaca de Juarez, Oaxaca, Mexico

three of my favorite botanical scents are lignum aloe (Bursera linanoe), vetiver and lavender.

I’m currently using Massimo Dutti’s citrus cologne; it’s not my favorite but it’s the only one I like among the colognes I’ve tried in Mexico City.

Tessa Laird, Auckland, New Zealand

imageTessa communicates with a pod

Photo: Courtesy of Tessa Laird

1. a) Psoralea pinnata, known as African Scurfpea or the more pleasant

Fountain Bush. Little blue, pea-like flowers with the most delicate,

fresh, almost tea-like scent!

b) Daphne, truly heaven-scent!

c) Basil, though I wouldn’t want to wear this fragrance, my tastebuds

start working instantly on smelling this wondrous herb.

2. Elizabeth Arden, Green Tea Lotus.

Anne Ardery, Louisville, Kentucky

Hyacinth, lilac,. cucumber

Red Door

Rita Mielke, Edinburg, North Dakota

The three favorite botonical scents of mine are lilac, thyme and sweet clover

My favorite perfume is Shalimar by Guerlain.  I have used it for nearly 50 years.

M Sinclair Stevens, Austin TX USA

gardenia, Stargazer lily, jasmine

Marc Jacobs (although I rarely remember to wear it…only for special occasions…in the garden perfume attracts bitey bugs).

Maria Henson, Sacramento, Calfornia

A) JASMINE (love it! and it reminds me of how I was stopped in my tracks by a wonderful fragrance at the Maple Leaf in New Orleans. Turns out it was jasmine that had just bloomed. It caused me to have a

hint of deja vu, but I don’t know to which place or time.)

B) the wild sage you find in Africa, especially how it smells after the


C) tuberose

I could go on and on, from sauteed garlic to coffee beans roasting to chocolate to honeysuckle to eucalyptus to roses to rosemary to paperwhites to basil to wisteria….What would the world be without this feast for our noses?!

Fragrance = memories.

2) I don’t wear it, but I do have an affinity for Chanel No. 5 because it’s a classic and White Shoulders because of that jasmine fragrance. I’ve never bought either brand but dabbed on a splash in department stores. When I was a college student, I liked men who wore a smidge of Polo by Ralph Lauren. Now, I prefer men to simply smell natural.

Phil / Louisville / Kentucky / USA

1. botanical scents: corn in a silo (if that qualification is

allowed),  tobacco (not burning), cantaloupe.

2. cologne/perfume: bay rum

Melinda Waring

So many to only name three! But these made the list.




Perfume – Opium

Jacque Wurzelbacher, Chicago, Illinois

Hiya Julie!

My very favorite smell is kukui nut in a massage cream but I’ve never smelled a real kukui nut.  (P.S. I loved it even before I got massaged with it.)

I love the smell of balsam fir - reminds me of being in the winter woods.

I loved the smell of lilacs that grew next to my grandma & grampa’s morning porch.

I’ve never enjoyed the smell of any perfume (or cologne on a man), even as a girl when I started getting those vanity perfume sets (Blue Evening in Paris? made me sick to my stomach). I have used essential oils when I’ve been in love - very mild vanilla-based with hints of orange.

Tim Murphy, Jupiter, Florida

1. Rosemary, western sagebrush, hyssop (Cusick’s giant hyssop, giant

hyssop, horse-mint)

But who can leave out sassafras and all the world’s basils?

2. Davidoff Cool Water: Summer Fizz


White Pine, since it always greets me with its scents as I walk in the forest. . it always makes me look around for a see where it is growing.

Chrysanthemums and Stargazers . . just a got to be at the top of the list . . .

I arrived back in town the day after the Hamilton mums how closed, and with a pretty, pretty please, they let me in.  I was stopped in my tracks as the Mums’ scent filled the whole of the greenhouse, and then thought THIS is what the green house effects can be like?

My mind went spinning through the many ways greenhouses ought be the basis of our healthcare system.  Physical fitness centers have us work twice as hard on stale air instead of the finest freshly produced air from the plants .

The breath of our being is produced by the plants, their scented airs, most too subtle to be detected, as they wind picks up and winds up the springs of well being of the homeopathic principle at work.

I so see each plant being a direct response of a vibration produced by each the galaxies producess which originates as to the cosmic quest to set up a support system to sustain life on earth.

For in spirit tearing through all that leaves the cosmic wish to manifest life in matter, it had to set up a support system. Each plant is a direct response, a match . . mirror image . . of a kind—homeopathic medicines. Bach Flower Remedies, Essential oils. . . each plant is a vibration which matches a function or aspect of living matter on earth.


love’s light and flutterbyes for now.

Lubna in India

I love essential oils. Wish I used them more often. Right now, I just have a few empty bottles lying around, perhaps next weekend I shall go and pick up a few.

1)Hmmm, three favourite botanical scents: Lemon/Orange (anything citrus helps me feel awake and cheerful), Sandalwood (relaxing), Cinnamon/Peppermint (spicy and refreshing)

2) I love botanical oils, rather than perfumes. Further, a few drops in your bath water and the fragrance stays throughout the day. I have recently used Ylang Ylang and since I forget the other fragrances, will stick to this for now.

Pam Penick, Austin, Texas

1. vanilla, rose, pine

2. none

Sandy Ao (nee- Wong Ming Chu), Kolkata, India

Great.. this is fun!!

Mmm.. it is very difficult to nerrow down to 3 botanical scents!!

imageRoger & Gallet – Santalia, one of Sandy Ao’s favorite perfumes

Photo: Sandy Ao

With much musing… I think I will list my three fond smells as below.

1) Orchid.

2) Magnolia.

3) Honeysuckle.

my fond scent will be

Roger & Gallet – Santalia or Ramage - Bourjois.

Greg Alikas, West Palm Beach, Florida

Vanilla (orchid seedpod);

Lemon Verbena

and at the moment, this Encyclia cordigera (orchid) right next to me

(of course on a different day there could be many others}

Caswell-Masseu Newport or Jockey Club

I am surprised that a person as worldly as you has just realized vanilla is an orchid. The flowers last only a day, if that, and have to be hand-pollinated in the


Craig @ Ellis Hollow, Ithaca, N.Y.

Happy to help, Julie.

3 scents:

Crushed fir needles.  Depending on species, they have a pine/citrus


‘Cuisse de Nymphe’ rose.  It’s the only scented rose I grow.  Reminds me of my grandmother’s bathroom.

Not sure this counts as botanical, but the fungal aroma of the soil as

it warms up in spring.  I’ve heard that it’s due primary to the

actinomycetes getting active, but I suspect that it’s a blend from the

many different soil microorganisms present, and each field has its

unique scent that changes through the warm-up.  (Along these lines, I

like newly cut hay, freshly bedded barns, and many of the good smells of a well-managed farm too.)

Favorite cologne/perfume:

None *is* an interesting answer. And it’s mine. We have a family member

who is severely allergic to anything perfume-y.  Wearing cologne could

mean a trip to the emergency room, and strong-scented flowers in the

house aren’t much better.  I find most perfumes/colognes to smell

unnatural, tacky.  Many just give me a headache.  But then so do

hyacinths forced inside.

Anne Mason, Louisville KY 40206

1.  A list of three favorite botanical scents

Most of these make me sneeze to even think about them.  But some of my favorite ways to sneeze:  limes, lilacs and water.

2.  The name of your current favorite cologne or perfume.

122Franck (not)

Shiseido Relaxing Fragrance

Sure am glad

I had a chance to say a word

About the odor and the stinkums

in my world.

The above is an homage to the Lovin’ Spoonful . And one has to ask.. and whether we like the smell or not of whatever may be in that spoonful.

P.S.  If I misspelled “homage”—please correct it and make fun of me later.



Jim, Baton Rouge, Louisiana>>>


< lemon, cloves, vanilla >



< Aspen >


Jill Nokes, Austin, Texas

balsam fir, lemon balm (Aloysia virgatum), and Huisache (Acacia smallii). These last two may sound esoteric, but they are actually used in perfumes in France, or so I am told.

“Melegrano” from Santa Maria Novella.  This is a 500 year old apothecary/perfumery that friends sent me to when we visited Florence, Italy, a couple of years ago. Melegrano is a pomegranate scent. Anyway, I thought I was hot stuff until my daughter told me I smelled like an old Italian lady. But I have to say it’s my favorite until I use it up, because it was expensive.

Mary Annette Pember, Cincinnati, Ohio

My three favorite botanical fragrances

Vetiver, Lavender, Cedar

Favorite perfume; Quelque Fleurs

This was fun, thanks! I often seek out scent throughout the day to refresh my mind, clear away the cobwebs. In the supermarket I can’t resist a little drive by the natural foods section where they display the soaps and candles. This little treat gives the chore of food shopping a bit of luxury.

Renee, Mississippi State, Mississippi, USA

Hi Julie, I’m happy to help.

1. sweet olive, lavender, banana magnolia

2. Jean Paul Gaultier

I don’t have any photographs in particular, but some wonderful memories

of a sweet olive tree outside my office in the physics department. It

inspired me to plant a sweet olive in my yard.

Wyn Stephens-Flo, Granite Falls, North Carolina, USA

1 Favorite scents: Vanilla, lemon, coffee

2.  Cashmere Mist by Donna Karan and Shea Cashmere by Bath and Body

both in lotion form.


Iris and peonies on a kitchen table in Indiana

Photo: Kay

Kay, Elkhart Indiana USA

Hey Julie!

Happy Valentines Day - glad to help, I like thinking about flowers right about now, we are finally getting a thaw here

A list of three favorite botanical scents: Iris, rose, marigold

The name of your current favorite cologne or perfume. None, but I like scented lotions and shampoos.

Rebecca Markovits, Austin, TX, USA

1. Fresia, Honeysuckle, Basil

2. Don’t really have one, but for the past five years I’ve been nursing a bottle of Evelyn, by Crabtree & Evelyn, that I really like. Mostly I feel like what perfumes, etc, I like is largely determined by whom I associate the scent with.  E.g, my mother used to wear Sunflower and for that reason I’ll always love that scent.


imageFicus Carsica





Mary Ann Roser, Austin, Texas USA

I love the smell of lavender, coffee beans and cinnamon (does that count?).

I don’t have a favorite current perfume, but I’m seeking one. When these were being made, my favorites were Gucci No. 3, Gucci No. 1 and Eau de Lancome.

“I love the flower girl.”—name that tune.

Ann Lansing, Asheville, North Carolina, USA

Well Julie, I’ve “studied” on this because it was a very hard assignment; there are so many great botanical scents to choose from but I’ll commit myself to these three which I’m most attached to because of place. (I have all three in my yard)

Honeysuckle—It reminds me of the onset of warm weather and summer which I love.  I used to love to drive by myself with all the windows down on warm evenings and smell the honeysuckle.  I also love to open up the bloom and sip the nectar. However, its invasiveness is a real problem for my gardens and I’m constantly cutting it out of my rhodos etc!

Lily of the valley—An evanescent flower, which I suppose makes it more special.  A friend of mine from Belgium told me they are the flowers one gives one’s mother on Mother’s Day.  However, mine bloom earlier than that, especially in these days of global warming.  Another invasive species!

Lavender—So calming.  I know you love lavender too…

And as far as my favorite perfume, I really don’t wear perfume as I like to smell the world as it is.  But years ago I did fall in love with a perfume made by Crabtree and Evelyn in their Jojoba Oil collection, but unfortunately they don’t make the perfume any more (and I complained about it to them) although they do make other products such as a hand lotion with a similar scent.  The scent contains “lavender, green herbs and a hint of citrus” and most people who smell it love it.  I think they changed the formula a little bit as it seems to have an “after-smell” which I like less but maybe I’VE changed rather than the formula!  So you can smell this scent even now in that collection if you’re unfamiliar with it.  Unfortunately there wasn’t really a name to the perfume except to say it was Crabtree and Evelyn Jojoba Oil perfume.  They also make a massage oil with jojoba oil and that scent, although jojoba oil isn’t good for massage as it soaks in so well, which is why I use it as a moisturizer rather than a massage oil!

Looking forward to seeing the results!


PS: My partner John who lived in the Bahamas for years on the 40 foot wooden schooner he built wanted to share his three favorites:  Lilac (a sentimental favorite from growing up in Oklahoma, as it was probably one of the few perfumed things that grew in OK), frangipani, and night-blooming jasmine.  His name is John Nation and he has no favorite perfume; his location then was in the Abacos in the Bahamas.  He was able to sail to the Bahamas by using his sextant in the days before GPS. After GPS, everyone in huge yachts could get there and it destroyed the idyllic place it had been before the rich people got there.

and my Baby Beat poet friend (one of whose best friends is Neeli Cherkovski who was one of Charles Bukowski’s best friends) asked me to ask you if you had ever read the book Perfume by Patrick Suskind.  I told him I wouldn’t be surprised if you had, although I haven’t; it sounds somewhat gruesome but intriguing.  I read it was a favorite book of Kurt Cobain who helped write the song “Scentless Apprentice” because of the book.  My poet friend’s favorite scent is honeysuckle because of its association with his childhood growing up in Graham County in rural western North Carolina among the Cherokee.  So we have that in common (along with many other things)

Felder Rushing, Jackson, Mississippi

three favorite botanical scents:

- Narcissus tazetta (“paperwhites”) even though they smell like cat urine to some folks. they take me back to a childhood of daffodils in my horticulturist great-grandmother’s garden. same with four o’clocks (Mirabilis jalopa). same thing with honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica)

imageZoe with Voodoo lily

Photo: Felder Rushing

- Voodoo lily (Amorphophallus ‘Konjac’) for its hair-raising stink that brings all my fleeing instincts into full bore. even very bad smells elicit responses.

-Magnolia grandiflora because i am a Southerner and it is the most exotic flower and fragrance native to the Deep South.

favorite non-floral scent:

- Steamy compost for its sweet waft of pure decay - it is the Umami of garden smells. same with fresh-picked mushrooms.

India Flint

Mount Pleasant, Australia

Your gentle invitation to consider scent opened Pandora’s box. here’s what came after the first reply…

While I wrote the first three things that came into my head—the question of scent and fragrance is far more complex. I fell asleep pondering the question and during the night dreamed of remembered scents …

How freesias in spring remind me of my grandmother and how damp leaf-mounds in the fall bring back memories of playing hide and seek in the Vermont woods. How the surprise scent of eucalyptus encountered overseas brings a rush of unexplained emotion. How the sharp scent of wild strawberries takes me straight to a mountainside in Tirol in a warm summer dawn. Mixed fragrant meadow smells evoke Latvia. Golden calendula has me back at age four, pencil in hand undertaking my first botanical drawing under the guidance of my mother.

There are memories that are not so good. A whiff of burning eucalyptus on the air brings back the bushfires of 1983 and the memory of utter mind-numbing terror when faced with the approaching wall of flame alone except for my brave dog. Days later the blessed rain on the blackened earth conjured belladonna lilies from the stygian dark, blooming pink and cream with nothing to compete with their intoxicating aroma.

John Levett, Cambridge Cambridgeshire, United Kingdom


imageTracking down horseradish sauce

Photo: John Levett

1. Three favourite botanical scents:

mint sauce

horseradish sauce

cranberry sauce

2. Favourite cologne or perfume:

Paco Rabanne

Caroline Woods, Santa Maria, Ca, USA

Only 3?? there are hundreds! I’d say honeysuckle, lily of the valley

and warm pine trees, but then there’s wood smoke on a cold day, rain

on dry soil and dry grass (a western smell), the smell of snow coming,

jonquils, a creek bed full of willows, gardenias, plumeria, old

fashioned roses…OK, I’ll quit!

No perfumes work for me, I really avoid most chemical scents,

and find just a few cleaning products that don’t bother me…thank

Heaven for ‘green’ products!

Brandon Kirkland - Talent Oregon

Julie I always have time for you, no matter how busy.


-Tuberose (this smell is very close to Gardenia and Plumeria) 


-Fresh Cut Grass


Clinique Happy (women’s perfume)

John Borden, Manhasset, New York

I’ll reply asap because this is not something that I should think too much about. If I do there would never be an answer.  Who knows day to day?

—-  a mountain pine forest.
—-  fresh lima beans, just cooked, as in what once were called butterbeans and sold door to door by truck farmers in Danville (Virginia).
—-  freshly dried and chopped rosemary, since you gave the suggestion of a spice, one that for me with a little salt and pepper is just the thing for some seafood.

I use no cologne or perfume but will admit here, and only here, to one

such indulgence.  While it has only a mild fragrance: I am committed to

Biotherm Homme mousse de rasage, peau sensible, haute precision. That’s myshaving cream—- picked some of this French stuff up in the early ‘80’s and have used it since unless deprived.  It’s not sold in the U.S. but in the absence of my past travels I order it on the web from Montreal.  They give up no secrets for their secret recipe, it just says Parfum, along with multiple other ingredients from propane to wheat germ extract.  It’s really pleasant, and gives a good shave of course.

And my Grasse scent was named La Nuit Dangereuse, and my concoction is a keepsake that couldn’t even be worn in an Ohio swingclub.

PS. I’m making a change if that’s allowed—-rosemary is out, too subtle for me on further reflection. A good curry powder is in, S&B, Bobst, Sharwood, with some potatoes, cauliflower and peas can have a wonderful aroma.

imageSweet basil

Photo: Human Flower Project

Philip Ardery, Louisville, Kentucky, USA /

Cape Town, Mowbray, South Africa
—Coffee, vanilla, basil
—I don’t know the names of any colognes or perfumes because I don’t use any.

Theresa Oertel, Durham, North Carolina

1. evergreen, honeysuckle, cured tobacco—does that count?

2. no favorite perfume

Claudia, Ithaca, NY and Wolfe Island Ontario.

Hey, Julie:

1) rosemary, hoya (they only release scent in the evening for a bit, and I never knew before I moved the houseplant out of the bedroom that there was an odor), cut grass. Pine needle may be a close number four. Oh, and river scent that comes in August with the combination of algae and water plants, yum!

2) I wear no scents, even deodorant is unscented, I guess Irish Spring soap is enough.

Cyndy Clark, Lexington, KY

I’ve given this very serious thought this weekend and it was a lot of fun.  I will give you today’s answer which might be different in six weeks (or even tomorrow) because I’m so fickle about fragrance.  My favorite is usually the one of many that I’m enjoying at the moment.  But, here goes as honest an answer as possible…

1.  jasmine- it’s no more heavenly than lilac or lily of the valley or hyacinth, but it’s much harder to come by in Ky. - the rarity makes it special

  lavender - tough choice between lavender and chamomile

  clove - soooo many wonderful spices to choose from

  honorable mention would have to go to cut grass -bluegrass, of course- nothing better on a summer night

2.  I don’t use cologne or perfume anymore, although when I did I used Opium by Yves St. Laurent - don’t even know if it’s still made.  It became too heavy for my aging senses, so now I use only hand lotion fragrances by Bath & Body Works or Body & Bath (whichever it is - it’s that mall store that sells fragranced potions to pamper yourself with).  My two preferred fragrances are Moonlight Path (lavender, roses, violets & musk - it’s the musk that makes it work) or Japanese Cherry Blossom (almondish). I’m not too keen on strictly floral scents for my body, but in the garden, they’re divine.

Greg Grant, Nacogdoches, Texas

1.  Jonquil, Sweet Olive, Banana Shrub

2.  None.  Don’t wear any or know any.  Would rather smell the real things in nature!

At Rosedown Plantation in St. Francisville, Louisiana, there’s a row of sweet olives on the back sides of the live oak alle’.  Each one is the size of a Hill Country live oak with trunks you can’t reach around.  HEAVEN.

When I lived in Baton Rouge, you could drive down the street with the windows UP and smell sweet olives and banana shrubs.  I think Grace Episcopal Church has nice ones in St. Francisville too.  They bloom fall and spring.  -GG

David Mudd, Lawrenceburg, Kentucky

cedar (wood and leaves). rosemary, vanilla pods

I realize I forgot to weigh in on the cologne question.  Put me down as none. 

I never wear it.  And while Meg’s got a couple of favorite perfumes, I do not know what they are.  I’ve not been interested enough to learn.  I find them too strong, off-putting.  It usually takes three or four hours after application for them to temper down to the level I like—the level at which one must be very close, and all sense organs (and some others) are deeply engaged—and even then I like just a trace, the whisper only, of some floral accent to her already alluring natural scent.

Don’t get me wrong.  She’s not one of those who pours it on and makes eyes water in an elevator.  It’s me.  I beat myself with the belief that my olfactories aren’t sharp enough to make me a really fine cook, but I could be wrong, because I’m finicky as hell about smells in other avenues of life.  Bad breath slaps me in the face, dog shit ruins my whole day.

Georgia Berkeley, CA, USA

loose leaf green and oolong teas after the first rinse; ripe East Coast peaches; Boston lilacs (unordered)

I have never been a regular perfume user/ wearer.  In college, I used Sunflowers by Elizabeth Arden (I still have the bottle); I like Bermuda Perfumery’s Frangipani (sadly I dropped my bottle a few days after returning from the island); and last Christmas my father-in-law gave me a perfume I like - Brooks Brothers Ladies Eau De Parfum.

imagePeonies, drawing by Mindy Lighthipe

Mindy Lighthipe, Warren, New Jersey

Lemons Peonies Lilacs

Veirben by Fragonard, Grasse France

Coco by Chanel

Angela Allen, Portland, Oregon

Fave scents: Lemon, lime, cucumber (I like citrusy, green-ish things. I love ginger and gingerale, but I’ve never thought of ginger as a scent.)

Shalimar, always, forever.

Ross Dworman

Oak Park, Illinois

Favorite botancial scents:

1. Our neighbor’s lilac bush, which hangs heavy in spring right next to our front porch so I can sit out there and read or daydream or nap under the scent.  The neighbor I’ve had to have arrested twice for harrassment (bad drinking problem) and don’t like him too much.  But enjoy his lilacs.  I just googled for the kind of lilac bush, too, and, while I can’t figure out just what common type it is (Charles Joly? Common Purple?)  am delighted to find out is falls in the category of Syringa Vulgaris.  Suitable to its situation in so many ways!

2. The wild roses that bloom in our backyard.  We didn’t plant them.  They were there when we moved in 21 years ago.  We moved them once, though, from one side of the garden to the other, thinking that would probably croak as a result.  But they survived and thrived.  Wish I had a photo to send because in addition to their aroma they are also so deeply, redly beautiful.

3. A thin slice of cucumber in a cold glass of water.  Around Chicago a lot of restaurants seem to think I want a slice of lemon in my water.  I don’t.  But there is one restaurant, Gaetano’s, where the water is served with a thin slice of cucumber.  I love that combination.  I can’t quite separate the scent from the flavor, so they work on me together.  Especially when the water is icy cold and the throat parched.  The food at Gaetano’s is also very good.

Favorite perfumes: I have been married steadily for going on 27 years so naturally my favorite perfume is whichever one Deb is wearing these days!  Actually, these days she wears one called “Beach”, which has the distinct scent of sun lotion (cocoa butter?).  I do like this one; conjurs the pleasure of the beach, which during the blistering cold days in Chicago lately has been a treat.  Makes me want to put on my swimsuit and lather her up. (Can I say that on the HFP?)

Here is a perfume guilty pleasure, though.  Many years ago I knew a woman who wore a scent named “Design.”  For a host of reasons it left a very lasting impression on a guy who otherwise has a pretty poor olfactory sense:  couldn’t smell the difference between an apple and orange blindfolded (me blindfolded, not the apple/orange) but I always note the note of Design when it wafts near.  Quite jolting.  Head turning. Like someone calling my name unexpectedly.  I guess it’s my madeleine.

Dawn DeSelms, Austin Texas

Hi Julie,

Sounds like a fun project.

Here is my botanical scent information:

1. Vanilla, orange blossom and hyacinth.

2. Perlier Caribbean Vanilla Eau de Toilette.

Eva Horton, San Angelo, Texas, USA

alfalfa hay, peaches,  honeysuckle and a live Christmas tree (oops that’s 4)

Eternity by Calvin Klein

carolyn courtney  louisville, Kentucky

1.  favorite scents -  lavender, clover, hyacinth

2.    most worn scent/ favorite for now -  chanel #5

Delphine Hirasuna, San Francisco, California

1) Roses

2) Lemon verbena

3) Eureka lemons

Don’t like heavy or spicy scents.  Want it to smell clean and refreshing.

I don’t wear perfume because my shampoo, soaps, hand lotion, etc. are already scented.  Too many conflicting smells.  Plus I feel that scents can violate people’s “spaces” just as noise can.  I don’t want to sit on a bus with someone holding a boom box, nor do I want to be next to someone doused in cologne.

Judy in New Jersey

Well, let’s see. Of course it depends on the time of year. Pine is delicious in winter, while fresh cut grass is nicer in summer. And I’m maybe not among the best to ask as I find butyl mercaptan, [eau du skunk] pleasant when not overly intense.

I can’t say that there are three floral fragrances that I like above all. Maybe as a class I could say lemon / citrus - I like freesias, lemon-scented fragrant pelargoniums

I recently had a martini made of pear infused vodka and St. Germain elderflower liqueur. Spent several minutes inhaling the scent before

taking the first sip. Haven’t noticed as intense a fragrance from elderflowers or the cordial I have made from the flower heads.

Crocus longiflorus is a winter-blooming species. Weather too chilly to notice when it flowers. If I kneel in homage, cup my hands around the

blossom and exhale gently, my breath warms the flower sufficiently that I can appreciate the violet-like fragrance.

Lily of the valley. There is a perfume or cologne, I think it is named “Muguet” which I believe is the French name for the flower.

A properly fragrant rose.

Older varieties of bearded iris, with a delicious grape fragrance. Seems to mostly be the blue ones.

“Hot” herbs, such as lavender, rosemary, thyme, sage.

Fresh cut cedarwood, Juniperus virginiana.

Lilac, on a damp spring day.

I don’t wear cologne / perfume.

PS In the autumn walk into a farm’s refrigerator / cold room filled with basket after basket of apples. Wonderful!


A whole bunch of botanical scents come to me:  lots of citrus scents (orange, lime, grapefruit, tangerine), plus rose, sandalwood, jasmine, and sandalwood.  Hard to narrow it down!

Naming a favorite perfume is even harder for me.  I can never afford the perfumes I really want to have, so I don’t have a first choice readily at hand on my vanity, or in mind.  I’d have to go to a department store downtown and spend some significant time sniffing.

Ellen Roberts, Mt. Sterling, Kentucky, USA

As a gardener and a person who loves to cook, I find it difficult to narrow the choices to 3.  I finally asked myself—what scents waft my way and make me say,  “Isn’t that wonderful”?  Generally, these are not the spices which require picking, crushing, and burying your nose in them, so I decided to divide my choices.  Sweet Bay magnolia and jasmine (the night blooming jasmine in St. John) always make me sigh.  Lemon grass blends scent and taste.


Thank you for including me.  would love to see you any time.  Ellen

Perfume-  Diorisimo (lily of the Valley)

DD, of Arlington, Mass., USA

your questions made me stop and think—I carry a lot of Top 10 and Top 3 lists in my head, but not involving fragrances, or smells, or odors…  and I seem to be one of those people who smells most “fragrances” as odors ! 

so, reversing the order of your questions and starting with the negative:  I don’t believe I really like any known colognes or perfumes.  And there are some I detest.  I think there’s one called “White Linen” that makes me gag. 

image Vanilla orchid, source of “the real thing”

Photo: Courtesy of Greg Allikas

however, I am not so defective that I reject the best smells in nature. I like many botanical smells, as long as they aren’t artificial.  Like, real vanilla is great, and then imitation vanilla (in soaps, etc.) never seems to work out.

I think I rank the smell of lilac at the very top—maybe because we had fragrant lilacs in our yard when I grew up and it’s a pleasant memory.

We also had fragrant roses, which I loved, but I realize there are so many roses, and now so many of them are weak… So I would say:  the roses of old.

And pineapple sage.  We once got such a plant at a nursery in Austin, and then left it out on the porch at a place near West Lake Hills where we were staying, and the next morning it had been nipped away by a deer.  I don’t think I’ve smelled pineapple sage since then, but I remember it as something delicious. 

David Massengill, New York City, NY

I meant to send along earlier and got distracted. Tarheels beat Duke last night in case you incline to old times. here’s my stuff:

3 botanical scents

1. vanilla

2. sandalwood

3. vick’s vapo-rub

favorite perfume

1. flower by kenzo


Fun to hear from you about this project.  I think my favorite scents are lily of the valley, gardenia, and honeysuckle.  I would like the scent of tulips if they had a scent.  I don’t have a favorite perfume, but right now I use green tea perfume sometimes. 

Your emails made me think of the memories associated with the smells I like, and whether the smells appeal to me partly because of those memories of just because of my nose.  All three of my faves are associated with childhood memories.

And as for flowers in childhood, I was almost stung by a bee once trying desperately to sniff some sort of dramatic smell out of a tulip.

And I’m from Virginia!


image Are flowers more fragrant when sunlit, like this iris? Julie Coningham contends they are

Photo: Julie Coningham

Julie Coningham  Rio Rancho, NM

I can’t really separate the smells - a serious head injury as a teenager left me with a very diminished sense of smell unless the scent is REALLY strong. So for me, the setting in which the flower appears adds so much to my experiencing the flower.  As a result, I am much more drawn to flowers still growing and alive, not cut arrangements etc. So for my three favorites I will share three flowers that I have had significant interactions with instead. I don’t wear or even like perfume of any kind - my favorite, if one could find it, would be Eau de Fresh Air!

Iris and I do a dance each spring….

This picture is the Iris Cathedral

so pristine and sacred a space

I smell the fresh air, the new growth all around, the ripeness of the earth….

can you smell bird song?

This picture brings that to mind as well.

This picture adds in the warmth of the sun, which somehow adds to the smells though I am not sure why.

imagePhoto: Julie Coningham

Sunflower is such a happy being, and not normally a flower one would associate with a scent. However, to me, this picture brings a strong fragrance with it of earth, fresh air, and all manner of growing things - note the pollen on the leaves, which also brings a memory of the runny nose/sensation I got from sticking my nose in all that pollen!

I love finding wildflowers too, and of course that includes the scent of the forest - pine, decaying earth -  added in too

One of my most beautiful discoveries was the elusive Mariposa Lily

otherwise known as the Madonna of the Rocks

dancing here in a field of little daisies

the scent of grass adding to the chorus of flowersong….

For the traditionalists though, you can’t beat the fragrance of a rose…..

again, my preference is a rose still alive, not cut

afloat in a sea of scents

Chicago Peace Rose in full vibrant bloom

This picture of an English rose really brings in extra smells - the smell of rain in particular, along with the sweetness of Rose herself

And my other favorite single scent is Lily….

awash in gentle colors

a contrast with the strong scent

a riot of colors and smells…..

if I do have cut flowers, Lily is always a part of them…

To close, here is a link to a slide show of some of the flowers in my garden….

let your imagination bring the smells alive for you

feel the sun on your face

the breeze kissing your cheek

the birds singing along

as mother earth reveals herself in so many beautiful ways…..

Thanks for the excuse to play

Allen Bush, Louisville, Kentucky

imageAllen Bush’s favorite perfume, Cannabis Rose and his favorite perfume wearer, Rose Cooper

Photo: Allen Bush

What fun, Julie! Here goes…

Favorite botanical scents:

Himalayan Sweet Box - Sarcococca hookeriana var. humilis

Witch Hazel -  there are many lovely sweet-smelling, winter-flowering witch

hazels, but Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Angelly’ is the one at work for us this


Sweet Shrub - Calycanthus floridus ‘Michael Lindsey’

Perfume: Cannabis Rose (I had no choice!)

Susie Simpson, Lewisville, North Carolina

A list of three favorite botanical scents:  daffodil, cilantro (I love

the smell), lilac

Yin - perfume; Gucci II for Men – cologne

Kim Lehman, Austin, Texas (grew up in Soap Hollow, Pennsylvania, where two of my scents originated from: Down the road from Gobblers Hollow. Up the road from Moon Shine Hollow, close to Tire Hill).

I love this question. I’ve been asking others about their favorite scents.

1. Favorite scents that have associated memories

Rotting leaves. There is something about the smell of rotting leaves, earthy, woodsy, moist -something almost magical. I miss that smell here in Texas. Growing up in the mountains of western Pennsylvania, the smell of decomposing leaves was unavoidable. I remember spending many happy hours wandering the woods, barefooted with my brothers and cousins. All I need to do is step into a wooded area, smell that smell and I feel comforted and full of joy. It is an overwhelming feeling, a full, pouring over feeling.


The scent of cinnamon warms me up. Cinnamon toast is a comfort food for me stemming from my childhood. I drink Yogi tea with cinnamon. One of the added benefits of making the tea is that the house is filled with the smells of cinnamon, cloves and ginger. It is a difficult choice of my favorite scent from the three but cinnamon barely won that contest. While growing up, our family and community cooking used very little herbs and spices - no garlic, no peppers, no rosemary…basically our added flavors were salt, pepper, butter, nutmeg and cinnamon. Anything having to do with the holidays or special sweets had the smell of cinnamon associated with it. Even to this day I make a cinnamon air freshener to spray on the sheets.


I don’t really have memories associated with this smell. I just love the freshness. Words I would use to describe the smell of lemons, oranges and limes (grapefruit isn’t my favorite).

fresh, clean, happy, bright, tingly, innocent, morning, sunrise, sweet, juicy. I also love the benefits of citrus that may add to my love of the smell. I drink hot water with lemon juice and honey for coughs and sore throats. I use citrus in cooking. And of course the half of a squeezed orange is good for rounding up pill bugs in the garden. Ii seems to me, don’t quote me, but in aromatherapy citrus has wonderful uses.

Other scents that came to mind… pine, honeysuckle, kidneywood, Texas Mountain laurel, rosemary, hay (reminds me of hayrides of my youth)

2. none. I don’t even know what perfumes are out there. The last time I wore perfume was the Skinny Dip I got from my grandmother for Christmas when I was 12, which was many years ago. Every once in a very long while I may use an essential oil as a perfume but not often. Nothing in particular just what I may have on hand but very, very rare.

imageTomas Nemecek enjoyed the scent of the Jeseniky mountains

Photo: Courtesy of T. Nemecek

Tomas Nemecek, Prague, Czech Republic

Sorry, a day after your deadline… But I´m trying!

1) My Top 3: mountain forest, apples, pines. I was looking for an illustration, so attached please find me in Jeseniky mountains (my favorite quasi native land) + Evelinka (now 7) under an apple tree in our garden.

Jana is sleeping but I guess I can say on behalf of her at least one—briar. (The photo with the code name “Sumava”—uhmmm, excuse my ignorance, it is briar, isn´t it? If not, well, she liked the flower during our trip to Sumava mountains)

2) Currently I use “FM pour homme” (product of FM Group World, Poland) and Jean-Louis Garraud´s after-shave lotion.

Jana uses Ahava; when we were dating, it was the classic Chanson d´Eau.

Wendy E. Cowling, Hamilton, New Zealand.

(Born and raised in Australia, hence the love of eucalyptus (we call them gum) trees)

Favorite botanical scents: Frangipani (Plumeria); Eucalyptus leaves; ylang ylang

Note: I loved frangipani long before I actually got to any Pacific islands.  I grew up in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, where the winters are too cold for frangipani to survive.  When I was a child an aunt was married in Melbourne and carried a bouquet of frangipani and I fell in love with the scent and flower then.  The trees grow well in Sydney, Australia.

Favorite perfume: Issy Miyaki – Summer

Steve, Chapel Hill, NC, USA

So sorry to get back so late.  I opened your email the morning I received it and then got busy and it slipped my mind.  Oddly, it struck me in the middle of the night last night that I had not answered.  Anyway, I think I would select lilac, clove and whatever the scent would be that comes from those Christmas jonquils.  I do not use cologne, so “none” is my answer.

Anonymous, Oxford, Mississippi USA

Gardenia, licorice and night blooming cereus (possible wrong name but common identity)

Shalimar, it is what I buy my lovely wife.

Ted, Austin, Texas

patchouli, curry, cloves

not that I don’t like it, but I have no favorite as I don’t pay much attention to that and rarely wear any

imageEvalinka under the blooming apple tree, Czech Republic

Photo: Tomas Nemecek

Bill Bishop, Austin, Texas

Honeysuckle, melon, cut grass


Kandi Ash, Houston, Texas

I am afraid i can be of no help due to loss of sense of smell back in ‘85.  I am currently wearing a cologne i remember liking from the ‘70’s - YSL’s Rive Gauche - but who knows if i still like it?

And Brian gave me a rose for V-day and I instinctively held it to my nose first thing, just enjoyed the velvety sensation of the petals for a second before I realized that I cannot smell it.  I just remember liking the smell of baby dolls and book pages. The thought of botanical scents doesn’t bring back any fond memories, maybe freshly mown grass or grass after a rain. 

Sorry I can’t help, but I will look forward to reading the results of your survey.

Waverly Fitzgerald, Seattle, Washington

I’m so glad you asked me these questions.

I’ve been reading perfume books like crazy. Just finishing up Chandler Burr’s A Year in Scent, and I read Luca Turin’s The secret of Scent and Perfumes: The Guide last month. I’m also writing an essay about capturing scent from flowers for the book I’m working on called My Year in Flowers. As part of my research for that essay, I also took a workshop on natural perfumery with Jeanne Rose. So I’m thrilled to be asked.

Favorite scents: vanilla, iris, linden.

Favorite perfume: Simply by Clinique.

But I just ordered 14 scents from The Perfumed Court (do you know of them?) so it will probably change.

Diana Waring, Dallas, Texas

Today, I would have to say roses, gardenias and cinnamon.

I don’t wear perfume too often, but when I do, I like Hermes’ 24 Faubourg and Houbigant’s Quelques Fleurs L’Original. (I have a difficult time pronouncing these names, so I am happy that you asked for the names in writing!)


Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 03/03 at 10:43 PM


How wonderful!
Such a treat to read!
my mind was reacting wildly to
the mention of all these scents!

Great article Julie!

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 03/04 at 11:35 AM

I’m less than a tenth of the way through and nominate this essay as among my favorite HFP posts.  I am tempted to go to the local nursery, florist and grocer…

Posted by Georgia ( on 03/04 at 01:39 PM

Thanks Julie for putting the list together. Fascinating!  There are many flower scents here that I also would have chosen if one could go beyond three. WEC

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 03/04 at 05:04 PM

Sweet ass article! (pun intended)  You rock Julie!

Posted by Brandon Kirkland on 03/04 at 05:56 PM

Julie, what thrill to find all the scents which I have wanted to name are in this post!
We do have nose for smells, right?!
This is the most fragrant post of all in Humanflowerproject…
But, Julie, you have forgotten to mention which are your fond smells…! Or have I miss them?

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 03/05 at 01:47 AM

Oh lord, you make me sound like an old hippy. 

My choices were, of course, those which immediately came to mind.  However, I’d like to add:

Rosa “Margaret Merril” - deeply sweet, sugary “old fashioned sweet shop” smell
Lilium candidum (Madonna Lily)
Thyme on a hot afternoon
Slightly over-ripe bananas
The fresh, sharp smell of the garden after a night of much-needed rain
New bread

Posted by Russell Bowes on 03/05 at 03:02 AM

aah Julie that was wonderful…i’m now surrounded by the [imagined] fragrances listed here…

Posted by india Flint on 03/05 at 07:51 AM


Thanks for this fantastically creative post. It’s so fun to read everyone’s favorite fragrances and to discover some new blogs as well. I must go back and look again, but I think I missed your favorites. Did you include your botantical fragrances as well?


Posted by Dawn on 03/05 at 10:30 AM

Writers forget to write about scents and smells when they scribble. This was such a good way to draw them out of us. Loved Ann’s honeysuckle memory. Smelling does make you remember, more than any of the other senses, I’m sure.

Posted by Angela Allen on 03/05 at 11:57 AM

I forgot to mention: for those really interested in smells, can I recommend this gardening book:

Led by the Nose:  A Garden of Smells
Jenny Joseph
Publisher: Souvenir Press

A month-by-month olfactory guide to the garden. 

Available on an Amazon site near you - and very good it is too.

Posted by Russell Bowes on 03/06 at 10:42 AM
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