A “parterre” is a flower bed, in both English and French. What a lovely name and concept for Parterre Gardens, a cut flower producer/perfume brand from Iowa that takes its inspiration from owner Jacob Van Patten’s love of both horticulture and French culture. Perfumery seems like a logical extension of these passions as well as a unique opportunity to combine the two.
Given Van Patten’s considerable experience with flower cultivation over the last few years (having grown over 150 species of flowers, trialed and selected from new cultivars and colors), it makes sense, too, that the Parterre Gardens solid fragrances (and their accompanying bath products) are botanical perfumes, composed entirely of plant-based essential oils. The French Garden Collection is the brand’s first line, and gardens, French history and culture and traditional French perfumery techniques are all highlighted throughout the concept and the fragrances.
I ordered the Discovery Set for the collection, and when it arrived back in April, I knew immediately that I would need to take some time with these. The collection consists of ten scents, plus I received a free gift of a sample of limited-edition Lourmarin. Then, the brand had a giveaway for newsletter subscribers and I won a sample of another limited edition fragrance, Ephrussi. So… twelve samples in total. That’s a lot of ground to cover, for starters.
Further, botanical perfumes offer a more complex fragrance experience than many of us are accustomed to, with so many commercial fragrances nowadays being linear. Some perfumers who work primarily or exclusively in the botanical realm refer to their creations as “slow perfumery” or “slow scent.” “Slow” is a good description that applies on many levels, as botanical perfumes unfurl at a leisurely pace through the traditional fragrance pyramid of top notes, heart notes and base notes. They generally need a little time to fully bloom on the skin and may need a few wears to be fully appreciated.
All of the above is to set the proper expectation for these fragrances. If you’re hoping these will be as strong and long-lasting as a commercial solid from Givenchy or Victoria’s Secret, please know they won’t be. If you’re hoping the three-note descriptions that accompany each scent comprise the whole fragrance story and will be detectible as individual notes, that may or may not happen. If you’re ready for a quieter, more intimate fragrance experience that’s full of surprises and beauty, read on!
The French Garden Collection Discovery Set
The Discovery Set includes 0.04 oz./1 g samples of all ten fragrances in the French Garden Collection. (Individual fragrance samples are also available for purchase.) The samples are packaged in small clamshell containers, and 1 g is more than enough to sample a scent multiple times while you decide if it’s worth a full-size purchase. I’ve worn each scent in the collection at least four times and my samples are all still more than half full. The set is packaged in an attractive black cardboard case which slides open. Each sample is clearly labeled with the brand, the name and the dominant notes. Vegans, please note that the base of all Parterre Gardens perfumes is a mix of jojoba oil and beeswax.
Parterre Gardens lists two or three official notes for each fragrance, which I’ve included here (in italics). I have added my impressions and some additional details about each scent’s performance on my skin. A general observation that applies to all: the fragrances are complicated and likely contain additional notes not listed in the official descriptions on the website. Where I thought I could identify a note that wasn’t named, I’ve done so with a (?), to help give you an idea of the scent, but please know that it is strictly my guess or impression–I do not know if the note or fragrance component I am detecting was actually used. (Which is half the fun, in my opinion. Mystery is part of the allure of fragrance and a perfumer is allowed to have secrets!)
(P.S. Wanna cut to the chase? Scroll down to the favorites and final thoughts below.)
Amboise (official notes: Cedarwood, Juniper, Sweet Orange)–opens with a prominent orange blast, then orange/juniper mix. Slight licorice/anise(?) note. Spicy gumdrop smell, very nice! Thirty minutes later, the sweetness from the orange has faded. Dry aromatic notes and cedar creeping in. Intimate sillage is now fading to a skin scent. An hour later: clean woods, hint of… patchouli(?) Three hours later, mostly the patchouli-esque base notes, just a trace on skin.
Chambord (official notes: Sandalwood, Cardamom, Cedarwood)–goes on with moderate-to-intimate sillage; strong green note, slightly camphoraceous. Pronounced cardamom scent. Hint of lemon(?) and… peach/osmanthus(?) Within the hour, sillage is intimate-to-skin scent. Spicy woods with a bitter/soapy tone–not unpleasant. Two hours later: still intimate-to-skin scent, but scent is now very different from application. Almost “barbershop” at this point–gently spiced woods.
Chantilly (official notes: Chamomile, Ylang-Ylang)–all bittersweet fruity chamomile on application. Two hours later, still pronounced chamomile; minimal floral notes; dry woody base notes (vetiver?). Three hours later, a roaring patchouli(?) has appeared. Base notes lingered 4-5 hours.
Chenonceau (official notes: Rose, Vanilla)–goes on with a nice vintage cosmetics aroma (vintage lipstick). Slightly powdery. Rose and vanilla noticeable but a woody green tone as well–petitgrain(?). Intimate sillage 2-3 inches above skin. Ninety minutes later: now a skin scent but floral notes have become more prominent. Lasted about 3 hours.
Fontainebleau (official notes: Sandalwood, Rose, Frankincense)–upon application: sandalwood, dash of frankincense, no hint of rose yet. Ten minutes later: ah, the rose has drifted in! Two hours later, the rose is gone, and a dry woody aroma has emerged. At the three-hour mark, faint woody notes remain.
Giverny (official notes: Tea Tree, Lemongrass, Vetiver)–slight medicinal tea tree aroma upon application; lemongrass is noticeable. One of the strongest scents in the set. Ninety minutes later: tea tree has receded, vetiver is noticeable, dash of lemongrass remaining.
Luxembourg (official notes: Jasmine, Neroli, Vanilla)–white floral vanilla; florals dominate the opening. Intimate and very soft sillage. Ninety minutes later, it’s a soft, balmy vanilla with a hint of floral. Thirty minutes later, it has faded completely and I re-upped for a second test, applying with a heavier hand for better results. Ultimately a clean, soft floral, not overly sweet. Ephemeral and it’s impossible to apply too much.
Tuileries (official notes: Cinnamon, Geranium, Palmarosa)–geranium dominates opening. No cinnamon noticeable yet. Touch of palmarosa (a geranium-adjacent aroma). Moderate-to-initmate sillage. Fifteen minutes later: here comes the cinnamon! Ninety minutes later, dry and woodier; palmarosa and vetiver(?) are the dominant notes. Two and a half hours after application, it’s a skin scent, touch of geranium and vetiver still left.
Versailles (official notes: Sweet Orange, Ylang-ylang)–sweet orange and ylang-ylang both noticeable; something green and twiggy (petitgrain?). Allspice(?) or clove(?) also noticeable. One hour later, it’s a pleasant orange spice mélange. Two hours later, orange disappeared, hint of dry spices remains.
Villandry (official notes: Bergamot, Neroli, May Chang)–predominant may chang (which resembles lemon); slight hint of green. Settles quickly to a nice Lemonheads candy aroma. Ninety minutes later, still very pleasant, sweetness has faded but a balmy lemon remains. Overall, smells very French, citrus-herbal like a L’Occitane perfume or Provençal soap. Two hours later: something dry and pleasant drifting into the background–sandalwood(?) or vetiver(?), perhaps.
Limited Editions: Lourmarin and Ephrussi
Lourmarin (official notes: Rockrose, Mimoa, Yuzu)–floral fruity; not overly sweet; basenotes lingered for hours! I applied in the evening and could smell the next morning. Rockrose dominates –slightly tart floral, very pleasant overall. (This is a limited-edition perfume and Parterre Gardens is donating 50% of Lourmarin’s sales to help the people of Ukraine. Another great opportunity to smell good and do good!)
Ephrussi (official notes: Davana, Palo Santo, Linden Blossom)–intense green fruity-floral to start; almost a “sappy” aroma. Sweet, thick and juicy. By the 30-minute mark, it’s a green, minty wood aroma. Becomes less sweet over time and takes an herbal turn. I get that gum drop impression again, though slightly different than the one I noticed in Amboise. Ninety minutes after application, it has turned fully green and aromatic and remains so as it fades over the next hour or two.
Favorites and Final Thoughts
All of the fragrances were a surprise in one way or another. I gravitated first to Luxembourg, Versailles and Chenonceau, which contain some of my most-loved floral notes, but the perfumer used these notes in unexpected ways and the resulting perfumes smelled pleasant, but nothing like I thought they would. And this magic worked the other way, too. Cedarwood is often a problematic note for me, but Amboise and Chambord, both of which feature this note, were two of my favorites in the Discovery Set.
Here’s a quick final assessment of the scents:
Gender: all are comfortably unisex.
Best sillage: Chambord, Giverny, Tuileries, Ephrussi. None exceeded moderate (arm’s length) sillage and all settled to intimate in about an hour.
Best persistence: Amboise (three to four hours), Chantilly (four to five hours), Lourmarin (which held on for a marathon nine+ hours!) Most of the others linger about three hours on skin.
Must subtle and I wish it could be just a bit louder: Luxembourg. So pretty but alas, so fleeting.
Most “French-smelling” fragrance: Villandry. If you enjoy L’Occitane’s verbena scents or Pré de Provence soaps, you’ll like this one.
Favorites from the French Garden Discovery Set: Amboise, Chambord, Villandry.
Least favorite: Giverny, due to the tea tree, which I associate with aromatherapy (dandruff shampoo, acne remedies, etc.) rather than perfume. It wasn’t an unpleasant scent, but I just couldn’t get past the skin care associations.
Favorite of the limited editions: both! They’re both great and perfect for summer!
Fragrance(s) I’ve decided to buy in a full size: stay tuned!
All photographs by me.