What is the Perfume Project?

This blog is a constantly evolving forum for thoughts on perfume, perfume-making, plants (especially orchids and flora of the Pacific Northwest) and life in general. It started out chronicling the adventures of Olympic Orchids Perfumes, established in July 2010, and has expanded in other directions. A big part of the blog is thinking about the ongoing process of learning and experimentation that leads to new perfumes, the exploration of perfumery materials, the theory and practice of perfume making, the challenges of marketing perfumes and other fragrance products, and random observations on philosophy and society. Spam comments will be marked as such and deleted; any comments that go beyond the boundaries of civil discourse will also be deleted. I am grateful to all of you, the readers, who contribute to the blog by commenting and making this a truly interactive perfume project.

Saturday, May 21, 2016


The hamster-wheel of life spins round again, and here I am back at my blogger desk until the inevitable next round of disruptions. This spring has brought a rapid-fire series of travels, all of which have involved a lot of moving of goods to a destination and back again, as well as a certain amount of grubby heavy lifting, either physically or mentally. The most recent disruption involved three days of setting up, manning, and breaking down a display at the AIX Scent Fair at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, crowned by a few minutes of glamour when Victor Wong and I received the Institute for Art and Olfaction Award for Bat, the fragrance I made for his company, Zoologist. Traveling is always a little surreal, but receiving an award is even more surreal, in a good way.

Coming home, there was the usual rush to catch up on pending orders and replenish stock, coordinate deferred orchid plant care, unpack the boxes that I shipped back from LA and store items where I can find them again, grade virtual reams of student papers, and deal with everything else that has a habit of falling through the cracks when I’m gone. A small task, but an annoying one, was clearing out the spam comments that had appeared while the blog was left unattended. Another task will be to deal with the giveaways that are still pending. That will happen this weekend.

Yesterday morning I went outside and ran a little for the first time in weeks. The sun was shining, and it was incredibly refreshing to get out and move. I always walk down our block at the beginning and end of a run, so get to talk to any neighbors who are out and smell whatever is in bloom. Currently the stars of the show are one neighbor’s roses that grow in a strip next to the street and another neighbor’s German irises (aka bearded iris) in a similar position. I know I’ve written about this before, but I’m always astounded by the fact that every variety of rose smells completely different. The pink ones are soft and gourmand, the yellow ones are like flavored tea, the red ones are rich and spicy, and so on. 

Bearded irises are the same. Every color has a different fragrance that has very little to do with perfumery “iris”. Like roses, they all have a recognizable “iris” scent that’s super-moist and cushiony-musky, but the ones down the street, with their bicolor scheme of lavender and purple, have spicy notes as well. The solid color lavender ones have a grape-candy note.

We only have Siberian irises, which are much less showy in every respect. The flowers only last a day or two, although they do bloom sequentially from the same stalk, and they’re not noticeably fragrant. In fact, they’re indestructible weeds whose only business in life is to quickly and stealthily make more and more Siberian irises. I wasn’t aware of this when I collected seeds a few years ago and scattered them around in the garden. I really need to replace or supplement them with some fragrant bearded irises.

What is your favorite variety of fragrant rose or iris?

[All photos are adapted from Wikimedia except for the photo of Victor and me, which is from the Art and Olfaction Awards photo collection.]


  1. Hi Ellen,
    This year we had (and still have) a "bumper crop" of solid light blue and bi-colored lavender and blue bearded iris blooming off the back deck. The two types have distinctly different scents. We can dig some for you in the fall if you like.

    1. Oh yes!!! I would love some of those fragrant iris. I can trade you some Siberian iris or Bletilla striata, if you want them.

  2. I actually only smelled an iris for the first time last week, when I saw one blooming in our yard. We moved to this house in December, so spring has been so fun seeing what is sprouting. It smelled so lovely (it was a magenta/purple/orange iris) that I bought 3 other iris plants to plant in the year. I hope they will be as fragrant and lovely too!

    1. Sun Mi, I'm glad you discovered that the big bearded irises are fragrant! I'm going to plant some this fall so that I don't have to go to the neighbor's yard to smell them.

  3. It's been so unseasonably cold and wet in our area that our irises are only now beginning to bloom about a month late. Most of the varieties in my garden were selected for color rather than scent. My favorite is a bicolor bearded Iris with freckled apricot and plum. My one scented Iris has a vaguely root beer/sasparilla fragrance but a rather pedestrian violet color.

    Congratulations on the A and O award!

    1. Anne, it seems to be common that flowers bred for size and color lose some or all of their fragrance. It's too bad.

      Thanks for the congrats!