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, October 13, 2018


When I don’t post the drawing on Facebook, not many people enter, but that’s OK. 

The winner of the first October drawing is TRINITI. 

Just e-mail me at olympicorchids at gmail dot com with your current correct address to claim your winnings. 

It looks like the majority of people who commented want to hear about how I get inspiration or ideas for perfumes, so I’ll write about that later this week. Other topics were materials, so I’ll continue that series, and the effect of weather (or more broadly, context) on perfume perception. All of those topics are coming up soon! Thanks to those who commented with suggestions that will help keep me from writing about sociology and politics. 

[Photo is our woods, taken a little later in the season last year, but representative of our autumn  foggy mornings and sunny afternoons]

Monday, October 1, 2018


The seasons march on and we are on the dark side of the fall equinox. Halloween and the US midterm elections are only about a month away, so it’s time to … have another drawing. No matter how much excess stuff I give away, it seems like more accumulates. 

This giveaway includes the usual 100 g of samples plus an assortment of miscellaneous cosmetics, all in pristine (i.e., unused) condition. Just leave a comment. 

I will be writing some regular posts this month, so the question you should answer to be entered in the drawing is what general topics you would like to read about.  

[Photo was grabbed from the webcam feed of the local ski area.]

Saturday, September 29, 2018


For quite some time I have been feeling guilty about not posting the winner of the last drawing. I have no real excuse except to say that I’ve been busy with teaching demands and, with the same sense of horror and fascination that one looks at a car crash, watching the farce that our government has become. It takes all the strength I have to keep politics out of this blog, so am going on the assumption that it is better not to post at all than to post my opinions, which are irrelevant to the stated topic of perfume. 

In any case the blog has been cleared of spam, the drawing has taken place and the winner of the GIANT drawing was JEN.

No, it’s not because she was the first to enter – this really was the random name that came out of the pile! I decided that, because so many people entered this drawing, I would also choose a runner-up who will receive 100 g of samples. 

The second-place winner was RICHARD FORTIN. 

Congratulations to you both. To claim your goodies, please provide your complete, current, and correct shipping address via an e-mail to olympicorchids at gmail dot com or send a PM to the Olympic Orchids Facebook page

[The photos are mine, taken in Hawaii]

Tuesday, August 28, 2018


I have no idea what happened to summer. As soon as school was out, we had major construction projects going on. Then in July we went to the Big Island of Hawaii for a much-needed vacation in the vog, and then spent several weeks at home while the sky and air was filled with wildfire smoke, trying to downsize my huge collection of cacti and succulents so that I don’t have to figure out where to put them all when the weather gets cold. On top of it, there was our summer sale, with frenzied packing and shipping for a month. Now I’m one week back into teaching the intensive 4-week course that I do each year. So much for summer. 

As I type this, I see that the leaves on the maple tree outside my window are turning yellow. I don’t know if it is because the weather was warmer and drier than usual (I don’t think so), or whether it is an effect of the smoke. This tree normally doesn’t lose its leaves until the middle of November, so I don’t know what’s going on with it. 

Yesterday was the first mostly smoke-free day we’ve had, and it was good to see blue sky. This morning it looks like the smoke may be coming back. Smoke in summer seems to be the new normal. 

I’ve been trying to upgrade my perfume studio with new shelving and storage for bottles, stock, and labels. It’s an ongoing process. To celebrate the fact that I now have storage space with easy access to printed bottles, I’m offering a huge end of summer giveaway. Leave any sort of comment about your summer or anything else that strikes your fancy, and be entered in a drawing for 100 g of perfume samples along with other random things including creams and lotions, facial cleansers, cosmetics, and who knows what else. 

[Photos are mine, taken on the Big Island] 

Wednesday, June 27, 2018


The winner of last week’s drawing is:


To claim your package of samples, send me an e-mail at olympicorchids at gmail dot com, or a PM on Facebook

Everything takes at least 3-4 times as long as you think it will. The reconstruction project that we started at the beginning of June is now complete except for staining the deck, which is not urgent. The best part is that I’m not the one who will be doing it. I spent the last few days painting walls that had been impacted by the construction, and the new trim that was put in. The ants are nearly gone, and at least the ones that are still around are living outside under a paving stone, where they belong. 

Last night I moved the first two racks of plants back into the space, and tomorrow will do more. It’s a relief to have the worst of the disruption over, but now my project is to clean, purge, and reorganize my perfume studio. Late last night I hauled out several big boxes of things I no longer want or need, and will try to find a home for the lot of it. Wish me luck!

Sunday, June 17, 2018


Saturday a week ago  was commencement at the university – the usual herding of students, threat of rain alternating with sunshine (both prompting umbrellas to be hauled out), thousands (or millions?) of dendrobium flowers sacrificed for leis, the usual speeches complete with exhortations to conserve resources, and after it all, mounds of plastic trash littering the stadium. 

I was ecstatically happy to have another academic year over with, looking forward to getting caught up on deferred tasks related to orchid husbandry and perfume-making, but the following Monday the friend/contractor who is rebuilding the whole back deck area and floor and support structure for the warm grow area showed up to start demolition. We have been helping with the project, so spent most of last week removing rotted decking, replacing some bad joists, and replacing the surface of the deck. It’s finished, and it’s beautiful. 

This past week the really nasty job started. The back of the house has a semi-attached solarium that we use to grow Phalaenopsis and other warm-loving orchids, and that also serves as a work room and family gathering room. Last winter someone’s foot almost went through the floor, and at that time we discovered that the entire wooden structure under the tile was nearly destroyed by rot. We did an emergency fix and scheduled the real repair at that time, but it was a shock to actually have June roll around and to have to evacuate the plants and other items from the space so that it could happen. To my relief, it was not the plants that had caused the rot, but rather leaks in the outside flashing that allowed rain water to seep between the untreated wood base and the tile. 

The first bit of tear-out revealed that the entire structure had become a giant ant colony, so as a biologist, I was the only one other than the contractor who could deal with mass quantities of insects. I was told that I moved 1000 pounds of debris from the demolition site to the truck that would take it to the dump (they weigh material to be dumped). The flooring has all been replaced correctly, and the tile goes in tomorrow. The poor plants have been scattered outdoors where they’re getting too much light, and indoors where they get none. I expect to lose some – that’s just life. But at least we do not have ants any more. 

It seems that there’s always some crisis begging for our attention, so we can never get caught up on the things we want to do. I’m still plugging away on clearing out things that get in my way, giving away another batch of 100g of excess perfume samples, so please leave a comment on how you catch up on daily life and find time to do fun things and be entered in the drawing.

The winner will be posted at the end of next week. 

[Dendrobium photo from a retailer's website, deck corner and wood damage photos are mine, ant photos are from Wikimedia, but show ants that are half red and half black like the ones we had] 

Wednesday, May 23, 2018


For several years now I have been building up a collection of Boswellia (frankincense) and Commiphora (myrrh) trees, all of which will have to be content to grow more or less as bonsai. They seem easy to grow in pots, but are leafless during the winter, and during the summer, too, if I don’t water them regularly. In the spring, after their winter dormant period, all of these trees start to leaf out, so at that time I try to give them plenty of water to facilitate the process. One day early last spring I noticed that the Boswellia neglecta had a big drop of resin exuding from a place where it had been trimmed months previously. I can only conclude that when the plants break dormancy their sap starts flowing the way maple sap does, and that it leaks out of any cut area. After producing sap, the little tree put out some nice, green, frond-like leaves, lost them during the winter, and has now grown more leaves. Through all this, the resin drop has kept hanging on. 

Early this spring the little Boswellia carteri tree lost its leaves, at which time some tiny drops of resin oozed out along the leaf stems. I collected these drops and tasted them, which was the best and easiest way to evaluate them. They tasted and smelled exactly like frankincense oil. This is already way more that I had hoped for when I bought the tree as a curiosity.

I also have a 3-foot (1 meter) tall Commiphora tenuipetiolata tree that had started to branch out from the side of the trunk. One of my assistants bumped against it last fall and broke the branch partially off. A week or so later I noticed a blob of resin accumulation around the break. This tree is actually large enough to produce some significant resin, so that made me think that maybe I'll be able to harvest a little incense from my plants after all! There should at least be a few small drops that I can burn. I’m looking forward to having some frankincense, but it will be especially interesting to see what the resin of all of the different Commiphora species smells like. 

[All photos are mine]

Sunday, May 13, 2018


Earlier this week I participated in a local radio talk show, in a segment that I had expected to be mainly about perfume, but which, in the end, degenerated into a discussion of whether people should talk to their neighbors or co-workers directly about things that bother them. The original issue was whether workplaces should have official, codified no-fragrance policies, but it quickly  broadened out to the issue of why people, at least in the US Pacific Northwest, are psychologically unable to talk to anyone one-on-one. 

I am not a fan of micromanagement of any kind, so am not in favor of mandated fragrance-free spaces, at least not when it comes to people’s discreet use of personal fragrance. The idea of a fragrance-free space is a fantasy anyway, given that every building has its own set of “fragrances” emanating from the structural components, furniture, and other installations. Anyone ever smelled particleboard? Let me tell you, it’s not a pretty fragrance, and the off-gassing is probably toxic to boot. Ever smelled fresh carpets with their horrible formalin- and cyclic-hydrocarbon-filled-underpads? What about older carpets filled with a mixture of ground-in grime, carpet cleaner, and rotting underpads? What about the “air fresheners” that are used to mask all of the building odors? Compared to the typical cacaphony of public building-generated odors, personal fragrance is a tiny blip in the noise. 

I’m certainly not a fan of being in a space where someone is wearing way too much obnoxious (by my standards) perfume. If it’s a one-time or occasional thing, I ignore it, knowing that it’s a minor temporary annoyance. If it were a colleague with whom I regularly shared a confined space, I would simply ask them face-to-face if they could go easy on the perfume. If I had a health condition that was aggravated by the smell of perfume, I would let the offender know and ask them to not wear that perfume, or any perfume, if it really was that serious. I trust that most people can exercise reasonable sensitivity and consideration of others if they know what the issue is. If they’re not told, how can they know? 

I articulated this common-sense view in the discussion, but it seems that most people did not agree, and would instead avoid talking to the person who wears perfume, and instead take the route of informing their supervisors or HR department and asking for a set of fragrance-free workplace rules. It was mentioned that one person’s workplace actually had a set of rules many pages in length. If the workplace really is one where people should not wear perfume (e.g., a hospital), then when workers are hired, the supervisor could politely ask each new employee not to wear perfume, and explain why. Compliance with requests is usually best when the person being asked knows why the request is being made. Slapping people with rules that seem arbitrary (or are arbitrary), just creates resentment. 

Going over a colleague’s head and reporting them to management for some real or imagined “misbehavior” without talking to the colleague directly first, is likely to create major resentment and undermine morale. The people doing the complaining probably like this strategy because it can be done anonymously (assuming the organization is large enough) and relieves them of any responsibility for initiating a one-on-one encounter that they may fear might be awkward. It seems more and more people are avoiding person-to-person conversations as the opportunities for taking the cowardly route of anonymous confrontation increase. 

What are your thoughts on these issues? 

[Images adapted from Wikimedia and some random Google searches]

Monday, May 7, 2018


My good intention is to resuscitate this blog, which I have to do from time to time after its recurring dormant phases. 

First things first. I’ll announce the winner of the last drawing, which was many weeks ago, then go on to explain and complain in another post about a few of the factors that make me feel like not writing blog posts. 

The drawing has been done, and the winner is:   TRINITI. 

Please e-mail me at olympicorchids at gmail dot com or leave a PM on the Olympic Orchids Facebook page (if you still use Facebook after all the recent scandals). 

If you do not respond before the next drawing is announced (at least a week from now), your winnings will go into the jackpot for the next drawing. 

[Photo is from the local ski area webcam last summer after all the snow had melted. That usually takes until mid-July, and this year seems to be on that schedule, too] 

Monday, March 12, 2018


It’s sunny! It’s warm!  The crocuses, cyclamens, hellebores, and camellias are in full bloom after a ridiculous cold spell that slowed them down. The purple crocuses have reproduced so much that there are huge purple patches in the garden. The jasmine survived the winter. The fruit trees have huge buds and the birds are going crazy. It must be spring cleaning time.

This week my cleaning will consist of another 100 g of miscellaneous perfume samples, plus a mint condition 28-color lipstick palette. If you like lipstick and don’t mind applying it with your finger or a brush, this should be fun to play with. It’s an extra because I ordered one and they sent me two (maybe it was a buy-one-get-one free deal) – it was a while ago so I don’t recall how I ended up with a duplicate.

This week’s question to answer if you want to be entered in the drawing is one or more of the following: Do you (or someone you know well) like to wear lipstick or other form of lip color? If so, how long does it typically stay on? Have you/they found one that lasts a decent amount of time?

[Crocus photo is mine from last year - there are way more purple crocuses this year. Lipstick photo from Wikimedia] 

Sunday, March 11, 2018


My spring break from the university has officially started. I may not really have more time, but at least it's a prompt to finally do the last random drawing and announce the winner. And with no further fanfare, the winner is:


To claim your winnings, just send an e-mail with your full name and shipping address to olympicorchids at gmail dot com or leave a PM on the Olympic Orchids Facebook page.

Another Monday giveaway will be coming tomorrow, so check it out.

[Decorative photo shows an orchid species, Dendrobium lawesii. My plant, my photo] 

Wednesday, February 14, 2018


After running in place for several weeks just to keep from falling behind, I've finally gotten around to doing the drawing for the perfume and cosmetics samples.

The winner is: MARY.

Please contact me by e-mail at olympicorchids at gmail dot com or leave a PM on our Facebook page. If the winnings are not claimed they will go into the jackpot for next time.

Even after packing a big box of cosmetic samples, there's still enough for another drawing of the same, plus the usual 100 g of samples.

To enter the new drawing, just leave a comment about what you're looking forward to this spring. I know I'm looking forward to spring break!

[The webcam photo from the local ski area in the rain looks like the invasion of the alien bubbles]

Friday, February 2, 2018


Given so many distractions, my plan to post giveaways on Mondays and post about materials on Wednesdays has gone awry. Maybe the bright side of this is that I've co-opted my usual Friday complaint about something. 

Frangipani, also called plumeria, is a type of shrubby tree native to Central America, Polynesia,  and parts of South America. It has been introduced to tropical regions all over the world as an ornamental tree. The white flowers are, as would be expected, fragrant at night to attract night-flying pollinators. There are plenty of cultivars that have been bred to have flowers in shades of lavender, yellow, pink, and red. The fragrance of fresh flowers is quintessentially tropical, somewhat like jasmine, gardenia, and other white flowers, but with a character of its own.

The scent of the absolute is not at all like the fragrance of the fresh flowers. I’ve tried frangipani absolute from several sources, and all are similar. The absolute itself is waxy and difficult to work with. It doesn’t really liquefy when heated, as most other absolutes do. It doesn’t readily dissolve in alcohol. The scent is mild, crisp-green like mastic, honeyed-sweet, and cooked-vegetal. For the first few minutes, it has a sharp, almost menthol-like note and a hint of what is commonly called “indolic” in perfume descriptions, but that I would call more “cresolic”. After that it’s mostly green and slightly honey-sweet, like baked acorn squash with brown sugar, becoming less aromatic and more of a waxy-woody dried hay smell as it declines and fades away. Longevity is in the top-note range given that it only lasts about an hour. I think anyone used to commercial perfumes (or just smelling fresh frangipani flowers) might be disappointed by the absolute.

Given that real frangipani absolute is horrendously expensive and not the most tractable material to work with, is it worth using in a perfume? I did use it in Tropic of Capricorn, and I think it contributes to the overall jungle-y-wet feeling; it may also modify some of the other materials. For that reason, I need to keep a supply on hand, but I’m not sure I’d commit to using it again.

Unless a fragrance is credibly guaranteed all-natural, any mention of a frangipani (or plumeria) note refers to a synthetic accord, not the absolute. The synthetics are strong and floral-smelling, with considerable longevity, what most people would associate with frangipani or tropical flowers in general.

Have you ever smelled frangipani absolute? If so, what did you think of it? If not, do you have any favorite perfumes with frangipani/plumeria notes?

[Photos all from Wikimedia]