Fragrance Friday: St. Clair Scents’ Gardener’s Glove

Fragrance Friday: St. Clair Scents’ Gardener’s Glove

By now, regular readers know that I am a committed gardener as well as a lover of fragrance. One probably led to the other, as I favor scents with green, floral, or woody notes. I’ve had to educate myself about genres like gourmands, and they’re still not at the top of my list although I now know more of them. So many of my earliest memories involve the gardens of the houses where my family has lived, and the surrounding New England woods where my sisters and I played for hours. There were the small wildflower garden by the stream that ran through the back yard of the house where I spent my first seven years of life, and the bulbs my parents planted, and my father’s large vegetable garden. A large patch of lilies of the valley spread in the shade against one side of that first house. My American grandparents’ house had a small garden crammed with azaleas and dogwoods, and they owned a nearby plot that was my grandfather’s extensive vegetable garden, which provided bushels of food for them and others during the Great Depression. My grandmother was something of a “grande dame” of the local garden club and prided herself on her flower arranging, so there was also a cutting garden for the flowers she loved.

Later in my own childhood, at another house, there was a wide meadow between our house and that of the famous architect who sold my parents several acres of his woodland on which to build. There, my father’s vegetable gardening became more ambitious, as he fenced about 100 square feet against the predations of deer and woodchucks. I was his reluctant helpmeet in the vegetable patch, the obedient middle child who didn’t vanish when he headed outside, or who could be easily found reading a book in a tree (aka, “doing nothing”). So I learned to weed, pick beans that were ready, take up ripe tomatoes before the squirrels got them, pick raspberries without my hands getting shredded by thorns, and cut the gladioli my dad loved to plant along the edges of his beds when their buds were half open, so they could finish unfurling their parasols of bright colors indoors, in one of my mother’s vases. One year, I even had a little corner of my own in that garden, to grow herbs, after I became entranced with the idea from reading the books of Elizabeth Goudge, especially The White Witch.  The main character is an herbalist and healer, and the book has many descriptions of various herbs, their uses, and their fragrance. I took my blogger name and the name of my gardening blog from another book that inspired my love of gardening when I was a child: Old Herbaceous.

Illustration of vegetable garden

Vegetable garden; image from http://www.sitez.co

The meadow itself was full of native wildflowers like butterfly weed, which my father nurtured with a passion. Past the enclosed vegetable garden, a single pathway through the meadow was kept mowed, and it was the shortcut to the woods for us and other children, as well as the deer who gazed longingly through the enclosure at my father’s lettuces and other green delicacies. The rest of the meadow was mowed once a year, and only after the wildflowers’ seeds had ripened. This late summer mowing, which removes competing tree saplings and also helps spread the seeds, is also known in England as “the hay cut.” It was essential for a meadow like this, as the surrounding woods, including the native northern white cedar, did their best to encroach stealthily and steadily within its bounds.

Wildflower meadow with butterfly weed in Connecticut

Wildflower meadow with butterfly weed; image from www.vimeo.com

Gardener’s Glove evokes all of these memories, starting with its top note of tomato leaf absolute, a favorite of mine. As Diane St. Clair’s website for St. Clair Scents observes:

If you work amidst the thorn and bramble, you know that the gardener’s glove is a soft, pliable leather, worn down from work, in all the right places.

The scent carries the background fragrance of the glove—tanned, aged leather, woods and soil—along with the ambrosial elements of the garden—sumptuous jasmines, roses, green blossoms and ripe fruit.

Gardeners Glove artisanal fragrance by St. Clair Scents

Gardeners Glove, from St. Clair Scents; image from http://www.stclairscents.com

If you haven’t yet discovered St. Clair Scents, you are in for a treat. The scents are a small group (three, to date) of handcrafted artisanal fragrances made by Diane, who is a premier artisan of dairy products at her farm in Vermont. Diane became intrigued with perfume and embarked on a course of study with her mentor Eliza Douglas. These three fragrances are the result. Diane was kind enough to exchange a few emails with me, in which she said:

I am really trying to position myself as someone producing perfumes with the aroma and feel of nature, a sense (scents) of place, if you will, since I am lucky enough to live and work on a farm. I also try to give my scents a vintage feel, from the days when naturals made up the bulk of perfume formulas, rather than synthetics.

On the St. Clair Scents website, Diane writes:

As I have done in making artisanal, farmstead food, I am interested in creating scent in a similar fashion: producing it with an individual vision and in small batches using fine ingredients. My perfumes are bottled by hand, each one a work of art on its own.

And Gardener’s Glove is indeed a work of art. It opens with a bright, sunny, green burst of citrus (including bergamot, which smells green to me), tomato leaf, and galbanum. It smells like the sun on a vegetable garden, verdant with tomato plants and herbs. As it evolves, the floral notes emerge — linden, rose, lily, jasmine — but also more greenery, in the form of blackcurrant bud, and fruit via apricot. So this vegetable garden, like my father’s, includes flowers; it also has some flowering fruit trees, bushes, and vines, like a true French “potager”. If you’ve ever smelled a fresh, ripe apricot, warmed by the sun and just plucked, you will recognize the note, as light as it is here. A hint of roses in sunlight, a waft of jasmine, perhaps twining its way up a fence or a post, a breath of lilies, round out the heart. Those floral notes together with the linden also leave a strong impression of sweet honeysuckle.

The greenness continues into the drydown, with vetiver, patchouli, and fir needle, now mixing with the warmth lent by saffron and amber notes, but on my skin the dominant theme of the base is the soft, fragrant leather of a well-worn gardener’s glove. If you garden, you know that there is that one favorite pair of gloves, often leather or part leather, that just fits right, has worn well, is sturdy enough for any job. Such gloves often pick up the various scents of the garden: pruned clippings of green leaves and grass, juice from harvested fruits, fragrant blossoms trimmed from their stems and gathered for the house, sap  and resin from shrubs and tree branches, dark, fertile earth, well-aged compost; and those scents mingle with the softened leather of one’s favorite gloves.

Part leather garden gloves used to prune roses

Garden gloves; photo from http://www.nocry.com

That is what Gardener’s Glove smells like — heaven! Some of my favorite fragrance blogs have reviewed Gardener’s Glove very favorably. I especially liked this comment by Sam at “I Scent You A Day”:

Gardener’s Glove takes you on a tour of a garden: a true gardener’s garden, earth, twigs, leaves and all. It’s a wonderfully clever fragrance that reveals itself leaf by leaf.

Sam also pointed out that the fragrance contains “everything sappy, sharp and green that you can find in the garden”. Yes! Yes it does! And I love it. Kafkaesque, whom Diane consulted in the last stages of the scent’s development, offers her usual detailed description, and I agree with almost all of it, except that I don’t get the medicinal note that bothered her. Jessica, at “Now Smell This”, called Gardener’s Glove “a leathery floral, with a leather that’s soft and smooth rather than animalic or dirtied-up”, while acknowledging the earthiness brought by notes like vetiver and castoreum. Robert Hermann wrote, at “CaFleureBon”, that Gardener’s Glove “is a flat out masterpiece of a fragrance; a perfect marriage of the best of vintage perfumes shot through with a modern sensibility.”

I have to agree. I don’t think I’m qualified to say what fragrance is or isn’t a masterpiece, but Gardener’s Glove is wonderful, and a worthy companion to my beloved Dryad, with which it shares a number of notes, by another artisanal perfumer, Liz Moores of Papillon Artisan Perfumes. If Dryad is the wild woodland sprite, Gardener’s Glove is her more domesticated neighbor in the meadow adjoining the woods. I love them both.

Samples kindly provided by St. Clair Scents; views expressed are my own.

Fragrance Friday: May Muguet Marathon

Fragrance Friday: May Muguet Marathon

As you may know, possibly my all-time favorite fragrance note is lily-of-the valley, or “muguet.”  I associate it with one of my favorite books, Elizabeth Goudge’s “The Scent of Water”: Fragrance Friday: The Scent of Water. I carried lilies of the valley in my bridal bouquet in April (flowers I grew myself), but May is traditionally the month for muguets, when the flowers often bloom and when the French give bouquets and sprays of the blossoms on May 1. So, since this is the first May since I developed my passion for perfume, I’m going to celebrate May by posting as many reviews as I can of muguet-focused fragrances, including the latest in the Hermessence line, “Muguet Porcelaine” by Jean-Claude Ellena as well as some classics and other new discoveries. Wish me luck! And please join me in the comments during this May marathon!

lily-of-the-valley basenotes

Fragrance Friday: The Scent of Water

Fragrance Friday: The Scent of Water

One of my favorite books is “The Scent of Water”, by Elizabeth Goudge. Sometimes I re-read it when I need respite from the tug and pull of my modern American life and job. It is the story of Mary Lindsay, a single, childless woman who leaves her successful career in London to move into a house in an English country village which she has inherited from a distant elderly cousin. She is on something of a spiritual quest, to rediscover her true self, her beliefs and her memories of the man who loved her more than she loved him, who had died in war before they were married.

Elizabeth Goudge had a rare gift of description: her words beautifully evoke the people and settings of her novels so that one can truly see them in the mind’s eye. Her early training was in art, and it shows in her ability to paint pictures with words. The house Mary Lindsay inherited is very old, and its rooms are bathed in rippling greenish light, as if they were underwater, because of the ivy and wisteria vines that grow near the old windows: it has a “dark stone-flagged hall where a silver tankard of lilies of the valley stood on an oak chest. The flowers and the polished silver gathered all light to themselves …”  Goudge uses the metaphor and imagery of water throughout the book, including an ancient well of springwater, hung with ivy and moss, that figures in several characters’ stories in the novel. She is also well aware of the symbolism in Christianity of flowers like the lily of the valley, which stands for purity and humility and is sometimes called Mary’s Tears, referring to the Virgin Mary and the tears she shed at the Crucifixion.

What is the scent of water? One of the other characters is another older woman, also single and childless, Jean. She is a kind but timid and fearful woman, often depressed and overwhelmed by life but struggling bravely to meet its challenges.

“Jean was visited by one of her rare moments of happiness, one of those moments when the goodness of God was so real to her that it was like taste and scent; the rough strong taste of honey in the comb and the scent of water.”
Elizabeth Goudge, The Scent of Water

But if one were to seek an actual scent that captured the spirit and atmosphere of this beloved book, what would it be? I nominate Jo Malone’s Lily of the Valley & Ivy, which  wafts from my wrists as I write this. With its notes of ivy (top), lily of the valley and narcissus (heart) and amber and beeswax (base), it is a lovely green floral with a hint of white musk. It is an elegant, quicksilver scent with earthly roots. It reminds me of a small, green and white English garden after a gentle rain. The scent of water.

Photo: http://www.basenotes.net

Too Many To Choose Just One

Too Many To Choose Just One

What was my favorite book as a child? I was such a bookworm that I couldn’t possibly pick just one. And I still own so many of the books that I loved as a child and teenager that now I qualify as a book hoarder. One of the greatest joys of parenting my own children was that I got to share my love of books — and my actual books — with them from the time they were infants. Sitting in a rocking chair with a baby or toddler in my arms, reading picture books to them, is a memory I deeply cherish. It only got better as they got older, when we took turns reading to them, and then they took turns reading to us. Oh, how we loved The Cat in the Hat, fairy tales, anything by Eric Carle! Maurice Sendak, Dr. Seuss, Richard Scarry, Little Golden Books, we sailed through them all. Continue reading