Ça Sent la Rose

Roses in our garden during a happier year for them

Roses must have one of the loveliest scents of all flowers. They have been cultivated for more than 5,000 years and thousands of varieties now exist. Unfortunately, they don’t do well here in our poor soil and they didn’t like this year’s late summer drought in particular. However, a garden close by once had a roseraie (rose garden) known for its contribution to the perfume industry.

I discovered that snippet when researching the history of the château de l’Astorguié, a delightful small château in the village of Parisot. I mentioned it in that post in my château series. My interest was piqued again when I came across an article that reported on the discovery of a gene that gives scented roses their fragrance. It’s always disappointing when a vividly-coloured, satiny-textured rose has no scent and French researchers found that roses without a perfume don’t carry this gene.

Parisot - Château de l'Astorguié
Château de l’Astorguié in Parisot

Veg or flowers?

You don’t associate this part of France with flower gardens. This is because the people depended largely on agriculture for their living. It was hard enough to get the unforgiving terrain to produce crops of any kind. In fact, they generally call a vegetable patch a jardin down here, and not a potager, which is the word I learned for a vegetable garden. In past times, people might have had a climbing rose over the door and perhaps a lavender bush or two, but the concept of a decorative garden was largely unknown.

Jardins de Quercy 10
Roses in les Jardins de Quercy, one of the few open to the public in our area

Local industry

It was surprising, therefore, to come across an industry here that depended on the gathering of fragile rose petals. The park below the château de l’Astorguié once had an extensive rose garden. It was planted mostly with Rosa centifolia, the Cabbage or Provence Rose, which is noted for its clear, sweet scent. This hybrid was cultivated by Dutch growers in the 17th-18th centuries and is distinguished by the many-petalled flower heads. These grow on delicate arching stems that are often bowed by the weight.

The petals of Rosa centifolia were traditionally used in the production of rosewater and rose oil, especially in Grasse, the capital of French perfumery. However, the petals from the Parisot roseraie were also gathered for this purpose, early in the morning with the dew still on them. This provided work for some of the women of Parisot.

Distilling the essence

It takes around 5 tonnes of petals to obtain a kilo of rose oil. The process of distilling using an alembic was discovered by an Arabic alchemist centuries ago. Prior to that, rosewater was obtained simply by macerating the petals in water.

I have been unable to discover if the distilling process actually took place in or near Parisot. I assume it must have done, since the petals would have been too fragile to transport for any distance and they would have rapidly lost their scent. It’s also not clear how long ago this took place, although I would guess it was probably during the late 19th/early 20th centuries.

If anyone does know more about this particular local industry, please let me know.

Incidentally, François Coty, who founded the perfume and cosmetics giant that is now worth billions, based his fortune on a rose scent. He was born in Corsica and took his mother’s maiden name, before moving to France and learning about perfumery. His early efforts were not a success, until he accidentally-on-purpose dropped a bottle of his Rose Jacqueminot perfume in a Paris department store. Attracted by the scent, shoppers crowded to buy it and he sold out on the spot.

The last rose of summer has bloomed and withered in our garden now. Perhaps next year will be a better one for them.

You might also like:

Every Château Tells a Story #12: Le Château de l’Astorguié, Parisot
Saffron: Quercy’s Red Gold
Making Eau-de-vie de Prune, an Ancient Tradition

Copyright © 2018 Life on La Lune, all rights reserved


    • A friend gave me a David Austin rose and I find it does better than the others, which tend to be those that were here when we first moved her, so they are getting rather old. Lack of success with those has, though, discouraged me from planting more, but maybe I should have another go. Other people seem to be able to do it successfully around here.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. My roses struggled very badly this year, and I’m afraid I have lost one or two. the blackspot got them, despite spraying them in the spring… Perhaps they’ll be better next year…. There’s hope yet!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I found it a bad year for roses, too. I’ve tried spraying in previous years, but it’s not an effective solution. Someone suggested using Uncle Tom’s Rose Tonic, which I’d not heard of before, so that might help to keep them healthier and bushy. I plan to give that a try next year.

      Liked by 1 person

      • The only spray I have found to work is Fertiligene maladies rosiers (polysoins) – it comes in a small cardboard packet, and has to be diluted. It’s a systemic so doesn’t need to be applied too often. I had great trouble finding it last year, perhaps it’s on the way out? The Bayer systemic was worse than useless!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Here in the south of England we have only an inch or two of soil over solid chalk. I have managed to grow old-fashioned roses by making quite deep raised beds with good commercial compost, giving a gallon of water on alternate days during the blistering summer that has just finished, and using Uncle Tom’s Rose Tonic which was recommended by a professional rose grower. Lots of heavily scented and well-coloured flowers have resulted, so it has seemed worth the effort.Might Uncle Tom help in your garden too?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think raised beds here would be the only answer, since our soil is terribly poor: claggy in winter and baked hard in summer – not to mention the stones. I should try Uncle Tom’s preparation, by the sound of it. Not sure if it’s available in France but perhaps I can get someone to bring me some. Thanks for the suggestions. 🙂


  3. When we first came to our village we were surprised to find climbing roses where we expected to see vines. (We had a grapevine growing over the back of our home in the UK at the time). Our holiday home had a lovely deep red rose clambering along the balcony rail and 28 years later it is still thriving…but almost no discernible perfume. Our present home (same village) had many more very old roses most of which we kept although I am not keen (or very good) on looking after them! However, they all have wonderful perfume and every June when they are at their best I am grateful to the previous owner who planted them. It hadn’t occured to me they may be difficult to grow further south as ours grow rampantly! I have three in pots that were presents, might you try that?
    A very informative post as always, thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Our soil is very poor here, although I have seen some lovely climbers on other people’s houses. More of a problem is black spot, which I understand is an issue where the air is cleaner. The roses start out okay in the spring but the leaves fall once they get infected by black spot. And I don’t like using chemicals on them. However, their inability to thrive may be down more to my shortcomings as a gardener. I could try them in pots and see if that works better.


      • I’m very much enjoying reading through some of your older posts. I think that black spot and mildew can be avoided if you try some of the newer David Austin disease-resistant varieties. I constantly battle with black spot and pest in the French roses I’ve purchased from the local garden supply but the David Austin remain pristine. I also steer clear of pesticides and fungicides and have found that by stripping back all of the leaves and bagging them each winter the disease is kept contained.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thank you for reading my scribblings. Some of them go back nearly 10 years, so I hope you’re not subjecting yourself to those!

          I have one David Austin rose that resists diseases well. In fact, the others have been better for the past two years. I no longer use any products on my roses and I think they actually benefit by enhancing their own natural resistance. When the leaves fall, like you, I remove them and dispose of them separately.

          Thanks again for reading. 🙂


  4. We have neighbours who introduced us to the Parisot rose, some of which, we were told, grows in our garden on the Belvedere. They also told us about the local industry and I would be happy to introduce them to you as you would understand much more of the language!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Very interesting, Vanessa. As with the Coty empire, from little scorns, etc. Or in his case, little petals!
    Roses are beautiful and some of the scents are just amazing.
    I tried to start a small rose garden here but as in your area, it was unsuccessful. The ground is very hard and dry and rose bushes really don’t like it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was very interested to learn about Coty. His later scents were, apparently, based on the aromatic plants found on Corsica. Unfortunately, he also founded a Fascist party in France in the 1930s…and was a womaniser. Quite a story there, I think.

      I have a few roses, but they don’t thrive here. They get black spot – a sign of clear air, I am told – and when it’s hot in summer and very cold in winter they suffer. Some people seem to manage them much better than I do. I enjoy seeing them in other people’s gardens!


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