Notes on Notes: Oakmoss

Notes on Notes: Oakmoss

Happy New Year! I wish you all a happy, healthy 2023! This year brings a new collaboration between me and Portia Turbo of Australian Perfume Junkies (and other sites as a regular guest blogger). Actually, it’s TWO new collaborations. The first is called “Notes on Notes”; Portia and I agree on a fragrance note we’d like to write about, and we’ll post our “notes” about it on the first Monday of each month, referring to a few specific fragrances. The second project is called “Counterpoint”; we’ll agree on a fragrance, and “interview” ourselves about it, seeing where our experiences coincide and where they differ.

I’m excited about these collaborations – I had such fun doing “Scent Semantics” with Portia and several other bloggers in 2022. I hope many of you will jump in and add your own observations and comments!

The first “Notes on Notes” is about oakmoss.

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Scent Sample Sunday: Marigold

Scent Sample Sunday: Marigold

I’ve always liked the scent of marigold flowers, that green, slightly bitter, yellow floral scent that to me smells like summertime. I think that association comes from helping my father in his vegetable garden as a child; he planted marigolds among the vegetables, a practice I now know is “companion planting” to ward off certain pests; the scent of marigolds is said to attract beneficial insects who eat pests like aphids, and to repel pests like cabbage worms. I don’t remember him ever explaining that to me, I learned it years later when I myself became a gardener and read many books on the subject.

My father favored the large, blowsy marigolds — the ones with the huge, heavy heads that were completely out of proportion to their stems and leaves, that inevitably lost their balance and toppled over sideways as much as any plant with its roots in the ground can topple. He also had a penchant for gladioli, those tall spears of flowers in colors that can be gorgeous or garish — sometimes both. Now that I think about it, his love for garish flowers was so uncharacteristic of most of his WASPy life, which included a New England boarding school, an Ivy League education, and a long career in the oil industry. Perhaps his love for the blowsiest of marigolds was like his love of opera: an acceptable outlet for the expression of over-the-top emotions that he felt his daily life did not permit.

These and other memories came rushing into my consciousness upon trying one of Scent Trunk’s original edition fragrances, Marigold. According to the website, its notes are: Salt Water, Saffron, Rose Petals, Carnation, Tagetes, Cedar, Sandalwood, Musk. It is a collaboration between two South Asian artists: Tanais, a novelist and essayist from Bangladesh; and Shyama Golden, a visual artist from Sri Lanka, focusing on their shared “love of psychedelic color palettes, sensuous botanicals and inspirations drawn from their respective motherlands.” Scent Trunk partners with artists in various fields as well as established perfumers to create its original scents, often centered on a particular ingredient or scent accord — in this case, Tagetes erecta.

Bottle of perfume with marigold flowers
Scent Trunk’s fragrance Marigold; image from

Tagetes is the botanical name for marigolds of all kinds — the blowsy “African marigolds” (Tagetes erecta) beloved of my father, and the smaller, more elegant French marigolds (Tagetes patula) I like to plant. It is the dominant note in Marigold, though the fragrance doesn’t replicate the smell of the actual flower. When I first spritz Marigold on my wrist, the top notes create an intriguing brightness, and I definitely smell fragrant saffron, the queen of spices and the key ingredient in so many treasured culinary dishes from the Mediterranean and South Asia (Milanese risotto, Spanish paella, Indian biryani, etc.). Is it coincidence that several of them are among my favorite foods? I used to dream, in the most lifelike way, about a particular biryani served by a restaurant in my hometown in New England, and the clouds of fragrant steam it released when uncovered at the table and served.

Saffron is a particularly good companion for marigolds, as they both have a pungent yet sweetish scent that is distinctive but pleasant (at least to my nose). Saffron also comes from a particular flower, Crocus sativus, or autumn crocus, whose stigma and styles are harvested and dried to create the spice. Iran, formerly known as Persia, is a major producer of saffron for the world market, and the spice is a favorite in traditional Persian recipes; one chef/blogger calls it “the beloved jewel of Persian cuisine.”

Blossom of crocus sativus with saffron spice
Threads of saffron with crocus sativus

As the saffron retreats, the smell of tagetes becomes stronger. My nose briefly glimpses a shy rose peeking out from behind an equally reticent carnation. Those scents are present, but they are handmaidens to Lady Marigold. Scent Trunk notes the symbolism of this floral dance:

At the heart of this composition is an accord of sacred South Asian flowers that commemorate life, love and death — marigold, rose and carnation — notes abloom a base of sandalwood, saltwater, coastal pine and musk, recalling the river mouths releasing in the Bay of Bengal. Saffron threads, as iconic as marigold blooms, offer a wisp of Kashmiri spice to this watery, woody, floral summer monsoon perfume.

In India, marigold flowers symbolize happiness and the sun; they are often used in decorations for festivals and weddings, draped in long, fragrant garlands over walls and doors. India is also a major source of marigolds in cultivation, as is Bali, although the flower originated in Mexico and Central America (another fragrance featuring marigold is Arquiste’s Flor y Canto, which seeks to evoke Aztec festivals and uses other flowers like Mexican tuberose).

Marigold retains that pungent floral note of tagetes throughout its development, but the other floral heart notes are gradually replaced by sandalwood and musk, both soft and warm. There is a tinge of cedar but it is very light; it really serves to heighten the effect of the sandalwood. I can’t confidently identify the saltwater accord, but there is a stage when Marigold does remind me of Un Jardin Sur La Lagune, and that may be the shared reference to salt or sea water.

I like Marigold very much — enough to order a small bottle of it so I’ll have that when my small travel spray is depleted. Scent Trunk offers a sensible 5 ml spray of all its fragrances, which is plenty to sample thoroughly. I have several of the different travel sprays, and they are all interesting. Have you tried any of their original editions, or any of the DIY Bespoke line?

Field of marigolds in Bali landscape
Marigold field in Bali; image from Bali Princess