For me, spring spells time to cut back on burning scented candles and incense and to ramp up the fresh flowers. I can snip a few roses here and whack down some lilacs there with the best of them, but I wanted an expert’s opinion on how to assemble a bouquet that would please a hardcore fragrance addict.
So I asked Justin Waddell, owner of Bloke Botanical, for advice. As he pulled together the simple-yet-knockout scented bouquet in the photo above (and see full view below), we talked flowers. Designing a magnificent bouquet has to do with a lot more than scent, of course. But, sticking to aroma, here’s what I learned:
Buy local and in season. This was Justin’s main piece of advice. If you insist on peonies in December, they’ll come from a hothouse where they’re bred for disease resistance, uniformity, and ability to ship well. Not for scent. In short, they’re Stepford blooms. A locally grown flower — like a basket of strawberries from a nearby farmer or a peach from a backyard tree — doesn’t have to stand up to two weeks in a refrigerated railway car. If you shop for local flowers, you can find glorious, tender blooms like bearded iris, garden roses, and sweet peas. Every season has something to offer, whether it’s forced hyacinth and narcissus in December, fruit tree branches and daphne in February, or freesia and old-fashioned peonies in May.
It’s not just about the flowers. Flowers can be sweet, and, in the case of some oriental lilies, potent enough to clear a ballroom. Sometimes the greenery smells better than the flowers. At the least, it can add balance. For instance, a sprig of scented geranium takes the preciousness out of a pink bouquet with its herbal hit of rose, mint, lemon, or even chocolate. Justin says they’re wonderful in bridal bouquets. Sarah Jane, one of Bloke’s team, says cedar can smell like anything from pine to maple syrup. Solomon’s Seal smells like honeysuckle; boronia is lemony; and eristomen is piney. Sarcococca leaves remind Justin of lily of the valley.
Consider less traditional scented flowers. When Justin told me he loves to plunge his nose into a bouquet of marigolds, I knew he understood the power of ugly gorgeousness that many perfume enthusiasts revere. Sure, gardenias and tuberoses are wonderful, but daffodils have an odd but alluring scent, too. Currant branches can be forced for a delicious fruity fragrance with a tinge of ammonia. “Smell your way around your yard,” Justin says. Don’t get trapped into thinking a bouquet is limited to particular flowers. Smell your shrubs, grasses, and trees.
Don’t forget about herbs. Sage lasts a long time when cut and placed in water, and its texture and dusty color are wonderful in bouquets. Rosemary, oregano, basil, lovage, and bay are great in bouquets, too. And, hey, you can recycle them into dinner.
For longevity, change water, cut stems, and keep out of direct light. Bacteria is the main bouquet killer, and bacteria breeds in dirty, warm water. To make your bouquet last, trim its stems every two to three days, change the vase’s water, and keep the bouquet out of the window.
In my backyard, I have the usual lilacs, roses, and peonies (and weeds). But that's not all. I'm thinking about a nosegay of Mme Isaac Pereire roses with a few stems of oregano, some lemon balm, and a twig of bay. I can almost smell it now.
Note: top image [shown cropped and then in full] is courtesy of Justin Waddell of Bloke Botanical. Lower image shows the Bloke pop-up at Cargo in Portland and was taken by the author.