Making Scents: Garden aromas in your home
People often ask me: “How can I make my own perfume at home?” Quite frankly, I would not advise anyone not to make their own fragrance at home. I’m enthusiastic about the idea of handmade products – the beauty and concentration and care in making something – but not homemade, and this is why.
After visiting a painter’s exhibition, do you attempt to recreate the masterpiece at home? No. Although you might read up on the medium used, or the premise behind the object, or its inspiration and its message, you trust the painter, as a master of their craft and their materials, to transmute them into something beyond imagination.
With the art form of fragrance, rather spend time at home with the scents of raw materials – essential oils and fresh herbs, spices and fruit, and plants from above and below the ground. Learn what they smell like by using them in many ways (and know that many commercial flowers have been bred for the sight of their blooms rather than their scent).
Then, when you choose a perfume you will understand more clearly the notes in the composed fragrance; how they perform and what it is you love or hate about them. Remember: you are learning a new language, a catalogue of smells in your mind.
Take lemon and lavender, mix with water and use a spray gun to clean kitchen surfaces and to refresh the air. Any citrus, herb or green oil will work for the kitchen. I love the combination of lemon, mint, clary sage and thyme: it is fresh, discourages germs and hints at a kitchen when cooking a roast.
In the lounge or bedroom, place an oil burner with oils that are softer and richer. Place neroli – a light, fresh floral – with milky sandalwood, or rose with clean resinous myrrh or something spicy like cinnamon. I wouldn’t suggest nutmeg in a bedroom – it is too stimulating.
The bathroom is one of the best places to learn about smells. By combining scent with heat and water vapour in a closed space, you can learn about smells in the air, as well as on the skin. But please be careful with pure essential oils in the bath. They sit as a film on top of the water, meaning your skin is in direct contact with them – which we try to avoid. Rather dilute in a carrier, like grape-seed oil, before pouring.
Cedarwood is not harmful on the skin – and I suggest pairing this with bergamot for a sponge-cake effect (sweet and salty). You could try the epicurean carrier oil of macadamia, if you incline to its saltier, nutty smell. Florals are perfect for a bath: try jasmine in a waxy green olive oil. Cut an orange and drop it in the steaming water before submerging yourself, or drop in a cinnamon stick.
The wish is that you experience oils while they are moving in the air (while volatile) and learn the language that will equip you to purchase a fragrance. Take your time with scents – find them in the air, in your home, on your skin and in a garden. Find the language in your cup of tea, at a nursery, in the spice aisle of the supermarket and in the timber section of a hardware store.