Crackling Like Ice: “The Holly & The Ivy”

*ATT22089 (1)

If any of you out there don’t know the glorious G. More O’Ferrall 1952 movie of “The Holly And The Ivy” you should scoot out now and lay in a copy of the DVD for the Christmas holidays. Demand a print which includes the mixed infants’ Nativity Play, inexcusably cut from my version. Among other delights this little-known film catches perfectly the suggestions of seasonal scents in a rambling and none too prosperous Norfolk parsonage, sunk in snow drifts, memories and stifled emotions. “How bitter the holly smells…it’s in the stems when you break it…as bitter as any gall..” murmurs Celia Johnson at the Christmas Eve family dinner table.

The house smells so cold, it comes off the celluloid in waves. A damp East Anglian bitter freeze whose bleakness is emphasised rather than diminished by the odours of old musty furniture undoubtedly permeated with cat. The fatty juiciness of roast goose; National Service army uniform itching like doormats; the duck pond and the dodgy duck eggs; unending washing up; over-worn woollens full of kitchen smells and insufficiently rinsed of Lux flakes; coal dust and soot; Woolworth toiletries; popping crackers; badly foxed bibles; gritty threadbare carpets; the vicar’s galoshes. And of course, “dark green and glittering, the Christmas tree”: presiding over all, doom-laden, like the Yggdrasil.

Then, heralded by woozy music, Celia’s screen sister Margaret Leighton staggers in half-cut from the London train – a svelte sequinned refugee from her Kensington flat and the impossibly glamorous world of the Associated Fashion News. Margaret exudes intoxicating fumes of Scotch, cigarettes, haute couture, expensive cosmetics and some gorgeous Paris chypre perfume. We imagine great rolling waves of fragrance, something quintessentially of the 1950’s like Malle’s Le Parfum de Therese (first formulated in 1959) full of plummy rose, pepper, clove, soft leather. Leighton was just on 30 when she made “The Holly and the Ivy”, but is so brittle, so thin, so heavily enamelled and so angstlich that she could pass for a 60 year old of today. Absolutely of her period, she is wearily and impossibly sophisticated, beautifully dressed and made up ( all from a tiny overnight grip) – apparently as exquisite and frail as an animal from a glass menagerie but much tougher than her little fur boots might suggest. Celia Johnson smells wonderfully clean I am sure, a cool dry skin moisturised with Ponds Cold Cream faintly overlaid with Vim, Dot and Ajax – but her younger sister is redolent of the world, the flesh and the devil.

I’m sure Leighton’s skin never frets and chafes with winter cold; it looks matte, hydrated and peachy – we are confident that her creamy complexion smells angelic and tastes almost edible, even when the lady is wiping the dishes where an ironically placed mirror hangs behind the kitchen door, next to the greasy range. (Is this looking glass a reminder of the mysteries of Van Eyck’s Arnolfini wedding portrait?). And then, Margaret Leighton’s eyes! Even in black and white: those Paul Newman/ Ginger Rogers hypnotic swimming blue eyes.

This amalgam of opposites is what the scent of Christmas is all about for me: this sense of being buffeted and sometimes overwhelmed by contrasts and memories; fair and foul, sweet and sour. Christmas sends many of us over the top with its emotional demands, the effluvia of memory; and the stress of unrealistic anticipation which reaches meltdown on New Years Eve. No wonder that the animal and the Old Adam in us goes crazy with the bombardment of odours. It sometimes feels as though a kaleidoscope of smells is being shaken up inside our heads and falling into the most unlikely patterns. Unusual circumstances can and do play havoc with our noses. So don’t judge a scent over the holiday period, whether it be a surprise gift of a new perfume, an old fragrant favourite or the smell of a new venue. Wait till your senses cool down after Twelfth Night and then take stock.

Autumn Leaves

farmhouse-with-birch-trees-1903

Following that earlier walk down the autumn garden path, here are 10 super scents to gladden your hearts on crisp frosty mornings and gloomy damp evenings. Scents with uplift, comfort and a whole heap of style; perfumes that make a nod to the season but are not governed by it. Nor is this selection made with any reference to gender. All of the following fragrances are great for both men and women, though some seem angled somewhat by their names; and one or two may work better on those of riper years. But that’s something I’d love you readers to comment on: so please, as ever, do write in. Meanwhile: enjoy, taste and try:

1. Vetiver Fatal by Atelier Cologne

B9-VF 200ml Packshot

Vetiver grass has been used in perfumery for millennia: it has a rather rough male reputation but women love the scent so here’s a perfume to suit everyone: sophisticated, easy-going, clean but with a touch of winter comfort. Oud emphasises vetiver’s greenery; cedar and violet leaf bring out the earthiness. Effortlessly charming.

2. Monsieur by Huitieme Art

8 eme art noir_Monsieur

Rocks, streams, stones, trees – the forests of the Auvergne or Wordsworth’s Lakes. Aromatic and woody – full of patchouli, cedar, sandalwood, poplar, dry papyrus and smoky incense. All the invigorating freshness of cool damp forest air but also comforting, warm and perfectly poised.

3. Bois Du Portugal by Creed

Bois du Portugal flacon75ml + etui

An old personal favourite which never palls: an unjustly forgotten Creed scent but still one of the best. Like sinking into a huge green velvet armchair inhaling lavender, mosses, bark, scented woods and memories of hot summer suns.

4. Oud Cashmere Mood by Maison Francis Kurkdjian

MFK-OUD cashemere mood WEB

I adore the loudness, the flamboyance and blatancy of oud. This cracker is wildly animalic, faintly rude, always animalic with sweet oils of labdanum, vanilla and benzoin. A fabulous contrast to the delicate cashmere fibres of Musc Ravageur – see below.

5. Musc Ravageur by Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle

musc ravageur 100ml

This is a beautifully dressed continental gentleman wearing soft supple tweeds and the finest, lightest cashmere scarf smelling subtly and deliciously of lavender, bitter orange, spices, woods….and clouds of warm sexy musks.

6. Tobacco Rose by Papillon

Tobacco Rose

The last rose of summer; the one still blooming in the sere garden on Christmas Day. Deep, dark, pourri’d and arousing; full of wonderful non-floral notes such as aromatic beeswax, musk, ambergris as well as the lushness of spicy Bulgarian rose oil.

7. Intoxicated By Kilian

Intoxicated_bottle 50ml_HDWEB

To give you courage on dark cold wet mornings; to stimulate you at night. A gorgeous warm spicy coffee fragrance laced with rose, cinnamon, nutmeg and green cardamom. Exciting, addictive, satisfying. Can’t live without it.

8. Vanille by Mona di Orio

vanille_bottleSQUARE

Beautiful fantasies of the South Seas and the Caribbean: a spangled veil thrown across the sky to catch diamond stars. Natural oil of vanilla laced with leather, gaiac wood, vetiver and a hint of rum. A landmark vanilla fragrance: exotic, never ersatz; modest but unconsciously overwhelming

9. Gardenia Sotto La Luna by Andy Tauer

DSC_4157mlo3noshadow

Tropical splendour from your own hot houses, brought to table with the forced peaches and melons. A boutonniere or bouquet for the winter balls and galas: massed creamy gardenias & white roses with incredible depth and almost vegetal richness. For me, currently Best in Show at Les Senteurs.

10. Sienne L’Hiver by Eau d’Italie

43202

The city of Siena in dead of winter: stone cold without, sumptuously heated and indulgent within. This little-known fragrance plays with colours, recreating the rich earthy tones of Siena’s architecture with truffle, frankincense, golden hay, labdanum, violet and geranium. A classic jewel!

Some smells do linger, Jean…

Circe Invidiosa

Circe Invidiosa

“Sillage”: in French the word means the cleft water and foaming ripples that mark the wake of a ship; it also denotes the trail of an animal. There’s a clue in that, for by the English it is used almost exclusively to mean the waft of perfume left by the presence or passage of a wearer. Everyone demands intense sillage these days: they even measure it. A sillage of three inches is nugatory; a respectable sillage should reach an arm’s length from the body and no further. And so on. Frederic Malle has even, you might reasonably claim, recreated the odour of sillage in his witty and delicious Cafe Society candle and room scent: une sillage de sillage.

Today people are by and large ready to admit (albeit under pressure) that they are wearing perfume, though they might be reluctant to reveal the name of their Chosen One. For centuries, though, the lovely and desirable sought the alluring enchantment of the sillage without the dubious connotations of the scent that gave it birth. To be seen to wear perfume on the skin was meretricious and dingy; yet to smell delicious was the mark of goodness, of moral integrity. The odour of sanctity revealed that a person was pure, benevolent, divine, without spot or stain. And it would continue to manifest even after death, rendering the mortal remains incorruptible, giving off an redolence of sweet myrrh, roses and what have you. So the aim of the fashionable was to create the illusion that scent emanated from one’s own skin, pores and soul – just as Alexander the Great sweated forth the smell of violets – and not from some dubious potation which aped the divine gift on none-to-clean skin.

“From her fragrant robes a lovely perfume was scattered” reads a hymn to the goddess Demeter. For thousands of years men and women strove for this effect: and contemporary literature – poems, plays, novels – colludes in the illusion. Desirable individuals exude scent from a vague, mysterious source. They are surrounded by an aura of perfume which suffuses their clothing, furniture, possessions and which leaves wonderful sillage when they move: “a faint delicious fragrance hung about her…”. Perfume clings to the objects that the beautiful people touch and it lingers in their rooms, their beds, luggage and hair – “she smells all amber!” But the source of the scent remains vague, unspecified: it manifests spontaneously; it seems to transmit from incense burners, herbs & flowers or from the very air. It comes from the purity of the soul. Nothing so vulgar as a bottle of perfume is mentioned: not in connection with sympathetic characters, at any rate.

I remember, I remember memorable encounters with sillage. I recall the girl with magnificent mahogany hair buying postcards in the National Gallery shop some 20 years ago, and she suffused in a cloud of Guerlain’s Samsara. I have never smelled that lovely but tricky scent so beautifully interpreted. I remember Chanel No 5 at a Covent Garden matinee, stealing over the stalls from a golden-shouldered matron in white linen: far more beguiling than discordant old Prokofiev. Some 30 years ago the ground floor at Harrods always smelled subtly and sweetly of gardenias as though left in the wake of generations of exquisite shoppers dipped in the Floris house exclusive. And most of all I recall midsummer midnight at Luxor in 1992 and the temple of Rameses on the Nile waterfront: everywhere the faint but insistent odour of Oscar de la Renta’s Volupte, the osmanthus & violet hit of the day. It was the scent and epicentre of the hot blue night.

“Some smells do linger, Jean!” as that careful lady in the tv ads used to say. And thank goodness for that. There was a woman picking over Cheddar in the Co-Op the other day who left a gorgeous powdery floral mist behind her – I don’t know what it was; dry, faintly spicy, it hung in the air like a sparkling iridescent bubble. And for sillage connoisseurs everywhere let me put in a word for Andy Tauer’s Sotta la Luna Gardenia – la Stupenda, indeed! Here is a massive and glorious gardenia scent enhanced with all the creamy sandalwood, tonka and vanilla notes exuded by the flower itself; and there’s a mossy, dark, jungly quality that expands its gender relevance. But the volume, the expansion! I like to wear just a drop of this one and follow its progress as it expands and inflates like a great balloon of fragrance. It opens up like the flower which inspires it, from a tight green bud to a voluptuous all-encompassing mantle. This is a case where less is definitely more.

Caron Cocktail

Beatrice+Lillie+-+What's+New+With+Bea+Lillie+ +-+7'+RECORD-548139

I don’t know about you, but the recent hot weather has left me craving a scent that’s exuberantly floral. Something cool and white and petally to spray liberally of an evening, after a tepid bath or a cold shower & before the first sundowner. A perfume to calm the fever of heat and complement one’s loosest linen slops, bleached out and soft by constant launderings. This is really the only time of year when it’s permissible to spray fragrance on your easy-wash clothes, knowing they’ll be back in the Bendix and up on the line again in a couple of hours.

Tiare, gardenia and magnolia are all perfect on a langourous summer evening but I’ve been really knocked for six – and not for the first time – by Caron’s 1933 stunner FLEURS DE ROCAILLE. Isn’t it interesting how perfume crushes go in cycles? I’ve been in and out of this one for the past thirty years at least. Maybe not one of the cult Carons, FLEURS is one of the easier to wear. In its day it was as influential and significant as Tabac Blond or Narcisse Noir, letting in light, sunshine and air to a perfume public stifled and oppressed by world recession and Depression. FLEURS DE ROCAILLE was the olfactory equivalent of Jean Harlow’s blindingly monochrome cut-on-the-bias satin; Crawford’s dazzlingly crisp ruffles and the ubiquitous Syrie Maugham cream decor of everyone’s new drawing room. And it’s not just stylish, its witty & fun – in the style of Beatrice Lillie’s surrealist telephone connection via two lilies.

A dazzling whoosh of aldehydes makes the initial hit smell like a foam of iced champagne cascading from a celebratory Nebuchadnezzar. Roses, violets, ylang ylang, lilac and muguet de bois pop pop pop in the pale gold bubbles like wedding confetti while underneath lies a damp green darkness of oakmoss and woods. Maybe the heady signature musk helps to brings out the alcoholic accord, too: Caron had been expert at creating the illusion since their gorgeous 1923 bath essence Royal Bain de Champagne. And here’s a thing: a couple of years ago I blew £1.00 on a bottle of Musk and had been fooling around with it when a visitor called and complained of the smell of flat stale champagne in the apartment. What can I say?

And there’s the hint of another scent in FLEURS DE ROCAILLE, too: a lovely Swedish girl once put her finger on it – “pigs!” she said. “Nice clean pigs!”: the sort of animals, all bathed and scrubbed, that Marie Antoinette might have herded on blue ribbons at the Trianon. It is this audacious whiff of the animalic that gives FLEURS its unique and unforgettable fascination: delicate fairytale flowers in a well-manured, very urban, rockery.

ATT15710Meanwhile I’ve had the rare chance to smell the flower that inspired Frederic Malle’s EAU DE MAGNOLIA: a huge grandifloria bloom the size of a Sevres soup bowl has opened in a neighbour’s garden and overhangs the pavement like Goblin Market fruit. I keep going to have another inhalation: very strange and fascinating, like green lemons rubbed on a metal grater but with an additional curious backnote which is as disconcerting as those pigs but less attractive. It’s as though the citrus is cupped in old dry plastic, a cracked basin from the back of the cupboard – or one of those plastic water beakers we gnawed at school. Truth is stranger than fiction: Editions de Parfums have retained and developed the lovely hesperidics – but wisely left the plastic accord for Mother Nature’s personal use.

Spanish Carnations: Vive el Rey!

screen-shot-2013-06-08-at-9-28-54-pm

It is sad to see the old King of Spain putting aside his crown. When he came to the throne in the 1970’s after Franco’s unspeakably protracted end Juan Carlos was a great golden figure of traditional Bourbon glamour and vigour. The elegant & charming Queen Sofia was said to Hoover her own palaces and there were two pretty neo-Velasquez Infantas plus the little Infant Felipe for the picture papers to delight in: a perfect “Hola!” family to lead Spain out of the long shadows of the Civil War. My friend Dona Pilar who sold newspapers down our road had grown up in a country where women were forbidden to wear trousers nor any garment in red or yellow – the national colours. Do you remember, old books on colour symbolism used to say grimly “in Spain the public executioner is arrayed in yellow”?

And now all this has ended in the anti-climax of abdication and the dreariness of scandal. But the Spanish royals have never had much luck. Maybe Louis XIV’s pushing his grandson onto the throne in 1700 drew down a native curse on the Bourbon intruders. There followed feeble-minded monarchs who never got out of bed, were caricatured by Goya, chased out by Napoleon and subjected to anarchist outrages. An Infanta sent to Versailles as the fiancee of Louis XV was eventually humiliatingly returned to Madrid, labelled ‘Not Wanted’. The beautiful blonde Queen Ena, an English princess and a granddaughter of Queen Victoria, had her wedding dress spattered with blood as a result of a terrorist bomb, an augury of a disastrous marriage.

What, I wonder, do we have in the shop as an olfactory ave atque vale to King Juan Carlos and to the new Felipe VI? Carnations are the national flower of Spain; crimson, pink and snowy flowers pulsating with that hypnotic creamy musky clove scent which electrifies you when encountered in a garden. A red carnation, say Spaniards, is the symbol of hopeless passion, erotic despair.

Ironically none of the perfumes at Les Senteurs use Spanish carnation oil but let that pass: the scent, if not the poetic conception, is similar; and (perceptible) carnation of any species is not common in modern perfumery. Caron’s Piu Bellodgia is a graceful reworking of their immortal Bellodgia first launched in 1927: a lighter, drier accord; powdery like petals. Myself, I think I may even prefer it to the great original. Creed’s Acqua Fiorentina is a decadently lush corncupia of white carnations atop velvety greengages and bursting plums; while Une Fleur de Cassie from Editions de Parfum uses the flowers to enrich an already hedonistic extravaganza of mimosa, acasias, apricots and jasmine.

But for a truly Hispanic experience, the full monty with castanets, fans, guitars mantillas and peinetas, try the Cuban pastiche of Molinard’s Habanita. This is perfumery’s legendary take on the Carmen/ Dietrich sluttish cigarette girl fantasy; you know, the one that has tobacco workers rolling cigars on their thighs; the story that inflamed the House of Molinard in 1921 when smokes were the sexiest smells in scent in the wake of Caron’s barnstorming Tabac Blond. Florid, smoky and dark as the Havana night, Habanita is spangled with stars of orange blossom, jasmine and lilac in a thicket of leather, benzoin, amber,oakmoss, vetiver and cedar with florid flashes of raspberry and peach.
It’s oily, earthy, seductive and as penetrating as a Toledo steel estoque.

Ole! We salute His Most Christian Majesty, King Felipe, as he takes the throne on June 19th.

Gentlemen’s Scents For Discerning Ladies.

marlene-dietrich-tuxedo-life-archives-eisenstaedt

Of course one of the whole points of Les Senteurs is to encourage our customers to wear whichever fragrance appeals to them: we do not sell by gender. Increasingly the niche perfume industry has followed us here: a perfume is sold as a beautiful scent aimed at the sensibility, psychology and emotions of the individual; its attraction is not confined to a specific sex.

Yet, nonetheless, certain fragrances whether by name or by the use of certain ingredients do carry connotations of being specifically male.

Ladies! I’m going to ask you to be bold,set aside your prejudices and preconceptions and have another look, another smell of the following scents.

We’ll start with 5 exemplars: that will be enough for most noses. If you find you like the idea, I’ll prepare you another batch. So do let us know. Thank you.

Vetiver Extraordinaire
By
Frederic Malle – Editions de Parfums

vetiver extraordinaire at Les Senteurs

We often hear ladies complaining – and with reason- that modern commercial fragrances are too sweet, overly laced with vanilla, tonka and liqueur accords. Here is the perfect antidote. Spraying VETIVER EXTRAORDINAIRE is like diving into a cool jade-green lake or showering under a forest waterfall.

It’s curious: most women adore the chthonic earthy smell
of vetiver grass (perfumers tend to work with the root) but when the oil is worked for women’s scents (sic) all the tangy edgy sharpness is usually ironed out. Here Dominique Ropion uses an egregiously high concentration of smoky Haitian vetiver and emphasises the bitterness with pink pepper, oak moss and – most dramatically – with slightly acrid biting myrrh.

On a girl’s skin this can be absolutely divine if you are looking for a crisp, super-elegant, immaculate chypre. A scent to wear with your most expensive tailoring, with your best shoes, a £200 hair makeover. Don’t be put off by my stressing the severity of VETIVER EXTRAORDINAIRE: as with all the perfumes described here, remember that the chemistry of a woman’s skin will in most cases naturally soften even the most extreme of austere scents.

Try Vetiver Extraordinaire.

Original Santal
By
Creed

Original Santal from Creed at Les Senteurs

Creed offer many opulent florals but it has to be said that the true glory of the range lies in the masculine lines. Creed has the perceived character of being fundamentally a House for men. So get in on the act, girls, and pinch one or two boys’ fragrances for yourselves.

I recall that when ORIGINAL SANTAL came out a decade ago the first consignment, which arrived in mid-winter, was almost exclusively snapped up by ladies for their own use. Now why? Well – there’s the glorious fiery bottle for a start. Now I know that in the final analysis the container is irrelevant – as with an oyster it’s what inside that counts. But, a fun flacon IS important and the graduated reds of SANTAL grab the attention as startlingly as Bette Davis’s scarlet ballgown in ‘Jezebel’.

And it becomes the contents perfectly: sweet, yes, but most winningly so and also woody, warm & generous-hearted. The tonka bean lusciousness is balanced with sandalwood, ginger, bitter orange, coriander, cinnamon and Creed’s famous juniper. A party scent, a scent that picks you up and makes you smile; you could never feel depressed in ORIGINAL SANTAL. How great is that?

Try Original Santal

Bois du Portugal
By
Creed

Bois du Portugal from Creed at Les Senteurs

Another cross-over act and my own favourite of the entire Creed range.
BOIS DU PORTUGAL goes back some 30 years and is one of those delicious scents of which it is hard to be sure of the ingredients. Undoubtedly I am not alone in finding this an added attraction: we all love a little enigma in a perfume.

BOIS DU PORTUGAL is deep and soft, dark and green: but of a quality quite unlike VETIVER EXTRAORDINAIRE. This is velvety, embracing, lulling, warm and enveloping. The smell of summer forests in Portugal filled with fragrant woods, lavender, oak moss and touches of lemon and citrus. Maybe a little leather, rose and a hint of lily of the valley underfoot The base is sandal and cedarwood bolstered & enriched with Creed’s signature ambergris.

Ladies who love Mitsouko, Eau du Soir and Femme should try this. It’s simultaneously chic and confident, sexy and assured. Like every good scent it should smell as though it is part of the wearer, as though exuded by the pores not by an atomiser.

Try Bois du Portugal

Pour Un Homme
By
Caron

Pour un Homme de Caron at Les Senteurs

The name and the plain square no-fuss bottle are uncompromisingly masculine. The fragrance is something else, a scent for everyone and anyone. Launched in 1934 this is in one sense the perfume that started all the His & Hers trouble: Caron claims it was the first fragrance marketed for men. It has been one of the world’s most iconic creations ever since.

Even if you think lavender is not for you, give POUR UN HOMME a go: this is sexy amorous seductive lavender, not a tired drawer freshener or faded cologne. PUH is the most luxuriously simple blending of complementary lavender oils with a discreet heart of rose absolue on a swooning base of expertly deployed vanilla and tonka which soften and enhance rather than sweeten. They also prolong tenacity as do the precious woods which hold them: PUH lingers leisurely on the skin.

This little masterpiece is one of a great quartet of lavender scents which includes the eccentric Jicky, the surreal beauty of Cologne Pour Le Matin and the blue afternoon of Reverie Au Jardin. Viva lavender, vive Caron!

Try Pour un Homme

Geranium Pour Monsieur
By
Frederic Malle – Editions de Parfums

geranium pour Monsieur from Editions de Parfum at Les Senteurs

The late great Mona di Orio used to reflect nostalgically on the scent of garden geraniums, gratefully watered on a hot dusty summer evening. Colette, too, wrote about this spicy green aroma. Now we can all wear it in
the setting of Dominique Ropion’s glorious green jewel.

GERANIUM is initially cool, even cold, a symphony of all the mints and peppermints. It’s bracing, sparkling, alive, tingling – there’s a slight mentholated quality to it, a morning wake up call. Because of this you may find it a perfect scent for daytime, for the workplace. This is the fragrance for a tall Hitchcock blonde, sure of herself and her frosty magnetism. Like her, GERANIUM melts and warms upon acquaintance, as your skin transforms it into a lightly musky creaminess, with touches of cinnamon and incense resins. Ingrid Bergman would have done it justice. So would Grace Kelly.

Try Geranium Pour Monsieur

Please have a try: in some ways this is maybe the most superficially masculine of my five choices but it is so unusual, unique and, frankly, gloriously unpredictable that I urge you to try it.
You may find the results sensational.

Blue Tits

bbcdotcodotuk

We are still officially in winter for another three weeks but these last days of February have their own loveliness. Every year without fail we always have a brief foretaste of spring round about now as if to tide us over until the real thing takes over, a little picture preview to get us through the last bit of winter. It’s already light until six o’clock, the air smells young again: the older I get the more I think I prefer these unique days at the turn of the season to the rather uncontrolled frenzy of the true spring which often feels overpoweringly passionate, making unreasonable demands of the stunned admirer.

The first daffodils came very early in February this year and now the garden foliage is the colour of the blue tits pecking at the peanuts suspended in my still skeletal magnolia. Have you noticed how uncannily and exactly the plumage of these little birds echoes and blends with the winter jasmine, the crocus, lungwort, the washed or stormy sky, and the blue grey yellow-green of all the young shoots? Only as they dart from branch to branch does movement render the tits fleetingly visible. And once April comes they appear to vanish altogether, swallowed up by golden verdance and blue sky. I never see one during the summer; colour absorbs them.

Delicious powerful scents are now lured forth by the first brief burst of warm sunshine. I haven’t seen violets in February for many years but there are stars of purple set in glowing green leaves by the bus stop – and that incredible mesmerising fragrance of musk and sugary petals: yesterday as I knelt in the muddy grass the violets smelled as sweet as though crystallised on a wedding cake. Maybe no other flower but the rose has such a familiar aroma. But be patient, push your nose beyond cliche – violets are fleshy & carnal and also reveal a faintly smoky note deep within them. They emit an echo of Frederic Malle’s Rubber Incense, a sheet of which I keep in my writing box to scent the stationery with “Saint des Saints”.

The vibernum flowers look like clots of mashed up raspberries and cream against emerald black leaves; their sharp spicy fragrance is faintly peppery, mingled with the damp earth & mould under the wall where the snowdrops’ luminous pearliness illuminates the dark purple hellebores and the mauve primulas. Those early daffodils exude the weird soaring excitement of a Sarah McCartney scent: a penetrating, exuberant and flagrant fragrance. The thrilling rubbery polleny yellow powderiness blown from satin trumpets is one of springtime’s most characteristic yet neglected perfumes.

“Gather ye rosebuds while ye may”! For the rain is back again and the forecast for the weekend predicts sharp frosts, hail and does not rule out snow. Hold back on your planting! But spring will keep and its scents continue to discreetly herald its coming.

Image: http://www.bbc.co.uk