Our black squirrel
New plant on the creek

No sense in no scent

Malmaison carnation 'Marmion'. Image: ©AllwoodsI was at a funeral on Saturday and at the cemetery each of the mourners was handed a carnation to place on the coffin. The first thing almost everyone did was to the raise the flower and smell it. And the next reaction was almost always the slightest hint of disappointment. Perhaps it was more the absence of satisfaction at finding fragrance that I noticed, a kind of resignation.

One of the war cries of traditionally minded gardeners is that modern varieties have no scent. The truth is that some modern varieties of roses, sweet peas, carnations etc have no scent and some old and traditional varieties of the same plants are unscented.

One reason that modern varieties of roses and carnations developed as cut flower are often unscented, in spite of general opinion that scented flowers would bring higher market prices, is that there is thought to be a link between fragrance and short vase life.

Malmaison carnation 'Thora'. Image: ©Allwoods Imogen Stone, the florist delivery service, reporting the Flowers and Plants Association, says: “The scent genes are very strongly bound up with those for vase life and flower size - stronger scent often means shorter life or smaller flowers.” However A.M. Borda, T.A. Nell and D.G. Clark in their paper: The relationship between floral fragrance and vase life of cut flower roses report: “…fragrance can not be directly related with short vase life of cut rose cultivars. As an alternative, postharvest factors such as ethylene synthesis or sensitivity, may be more important for influencing the postharvest performance of fragrant cut rose cultivars.”

The Imogen Stone article reports these cut flower carnations as having a strong scent: ‘Bagatel’, ‘Gipsy’ and ‘Candy White’. But the carnations with the most powerful fragrance of all the old Malmaison carnations, from as long ago as 1857, rescued from obscurity by Jim Marshall, former Gardens Advisor to the National Trust in Britain and now the holder of the British National Collection of Malmaison Carnations.

Malmaison carnation 'Princess of Wales'. Image: ©Allwoods Unlike the familiar cut flower carnations, Malmaisons (four shown here) have a shorter season, the flower form is a little disorganised, but the colours are impressive and the scent can be staggering. And they’re being planted commercially again.

In Britain a good range of Malmaison carnations is available by mail order from from Allwoods. Anyone know an American mail order supplier?

And note for the far flung future: when my time comes, a few Malmaison carnations would be just thing thing.

Comments

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Mary Delle

Really interesting. Most of my flowers are short-lived in the vase, but give the best scent. I like these things scientifically proved. Thank you.

Graham Rice

Mary - Almost all flowers will last longer in the vase if you add flower food to the water.

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