Sunday, 31 May 2015


Smells are so evocative, aren't they? I'm very fond of old fashioned flowers, especially scented ones. This post is a bit of a retrospective one because the flowers in it have pretty much finished blooming now, and the garden is tumbling into summer. However I want to pause for a moment and look at (and smell) a few favourite blooms. I find that modern perfumes often smell rather synthetic, and I can't identify the flowers in them. As a result I buy quite traditional ones which have the sweet, fresh, powdery scent of flowers which seem to evoke times gone by. 

Many years ago I collected a set of books which were produced by the very traditional perfumier Penhaligons. (One day I plan to buy some of their Bluebell Scent - it's rather pricey, though, so I may have to wait a bit longer!) The books are beautiful, filled with floral illustrations and, best of all, with scented end-papers. Here are some of my favourites.

They are treasures which I like to sit and peruse in spring and summer with a cup of tea when I've got a few moments. One of life's pleasures.

Now to the flowers. My all-time favourite has always been lilac and I mentioned it in this post last year. This is the lilac bush in our front garden, and I love to just stand and inhale its perfume, almost trying to store its memory for the coming year. In the Victorian Language of Flowers it signifies 'First Emotions of Love'. 

I was looking forward to putting it into the green spotty jug which I had for my birthday last year, and I wasn't disappointed. I recently crocheted the mandala underneath it with a bunch of lilac in mind.

Last summer I bought this lovely French lilac soap which scents my bedroom drawers,

and I've had this lilac perfume bottle for more than 20 years now. P gave it to me when I was pregnant with B and once the perfume ran out I kept the bottle because it's so pretty and still smells of lilac. Sadly it was discontinued soon afterwards - I do wish they'd bring it back.

Another old-fashioned flower I'm very fond of is the violet. It's synonymous with Victorian and Edwardian times and violet-sellers in Covent Garden in London, like Eliza Doolittle in 'My Fair Lady'. Violets were grown in Dorset, Devon and Cornwall in the first part of the last century and sent up to London to be sold in little bunches on street corners and in markets. They signified Modesty in the Language of Flowers, and are depicted as shy little flowers which hide their beauty.

I've always been rather partial to Parma Violet sweets because of their floral taste . They are thought of nowadays as a 'retro' sweet but still seem to be as popular as ever with their sweet, flowery flavour. I think that they're an acquired taste, though. A colleague once tried one and wondered why you'd want to eat sweets that taste of soap!

Another old-fashioned scented flower is lily-of-the-valley, or convalaria. Such a pretty, delicate little plant with elegantly-shaped green leaves, revealing rows of tiny white bells. In France it's called muguet and is traditionally given to loved ones on May Day. It's often thought of as a wedding flower and its dainty blooms feature in bridal bouquets. They signify Return to Happiness in the Language of Flowers.

In March I spotted a pot of lily-of-the-valley in a supermarket and eagerly snapped it up.

Outside the garden was still quite bare but on my windowsill dainty little bells of white were flowering away.

They smelt wonderfully sweet, a foretaste of late spring.

As I carried it from one room to another I caught sight of its shadow on the wall and stopped to take a snap. The flowers' delicately traced outline looked very striking, making me think that they'd make a lovely stencil or print. I planted it in the garden soon afterwards. I do hope it'll come up again next year.

Well, I hope you've enjoyed my little nostalgic reverie - perhaps you have your own favourite flower scents? I'd love to hear what they are x.


  1. Your pictures are lovely! Our lilac doesn't seem to have produced as many flowers this year, but the ones that it has do smell heavenly. I quite agree that many perfumes don't smell of flowers these days, even if they claim to have a "floral fragrance"! xx

  2. My favourite flower scents are also lilac and lily-of-the-valley .. I have soaps and eau de toilette of these fragrances ...

  3. Such lovely pictures! we don't have any lilac but we do have lavender, hubbie hates it but I do like the smell of lavender :) I love the lily of the valley as well it's so pretty! x

  4. I'm a huge fan of lilacs as well. I read a Donna Leon book once, "Death of Faith", in which lilacs in a Venice courtyard were described so evocatively I've never forgotten it. Lilies of the Valley remind me of my childhood. We used to have lots in the garden and I'd pick them for my grandmothers. Such a lovely post, scent can transport us to the past in an instant. CJ xx

  5. Love the shadow picture and I haven't tried Parma Violets since childhood but now have a sudden craving! You're right about smell being one of the best senses for evoking memories. I think old fashioned roses have to get my vote for favourite flower scent, although lavender and lilac are right up there too. Have a great week. xx

  6. The scent of coconut takes me back to Africa in a shot - to the heat and the haze of summer, lily of the valley reminds me of my first months here in the UK when I discovered a lily of the valley scent, sadly I can not remember what it was. Lilac is the scent my Gran associated with the birth of my mother as while she was in the hospital she was given huge bouquets of them. Frangipani also take me home to Africa. Roses bring me straight back here. Scents give me permission to 'travel' to both sides of the hemisphere. Lovely post :)

  7. How lovely to discover your little blog....
    I adore old fashioned scents to!
    I have all of your favourites growing in my garden and just wishes their scent would last longer than a couple of weeks :(
    My lily of the valleys now meamble all over my garden even venturing into the lawn and I simply love it. I always think it is Mother Nature's way of uplifting our souls :)

    A gorgeous post my lovely (all except the parma violets!)...
    Do pop by and say hello when you have a spare five mins
    Tilly x

  8. Pretty pretty flowers! My lilac is not blooming yet (blame Canadian weather), but it's coming. For now I am enjoying apple and plum blossoms, plus the magnolia. Wonderful month of June!

    1. Hi Julie - it's nice to meet you, and thank you for your comment! How lovely that you still have the lilac to look forward to, and the blossoms and magnolias are a real treat too, aren't they?
      Cathy x

  9. Lilac is one of my favourites and it always signals the start of summer for me. My favourite though has to be lavender and sweetpeas. The mixture is so heady but makes my body sigh with happiness :-) Have a wonderful week xx

  10. You mentioned lilac and I thought, "Oh yes, that's my favourite!". Then violet, and I thought, "No, that one!" Then lily of the valley and I thought, "Oh, this is my ultimate favourite for sure!". It's so hard to decide! I love them all. Snapdragons and Buffalo Beans remind me of being a child: spicy carnations remind me of my floral shop days; white freesia of my wedding day. I just can't pick a favourite, but I love how each one instantly takes me to a sweet part of my past.

  11. Lovely photos and a great blog, very nostalgic flowers and scents, that often get over looked these days. I want to do scented borders and plants at the nursery one day :)


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