Gardenia Crime









In my more crazed moments here I would creep out at night in stealth, plastic carrier bags in hand, to cull the neighbours’ gardenias.

I just couldn’t resist them. And then, often, I would return home, breathless with theft, to find them crawling with bugs, on the quickly decaying petals that I then plunged, to macerate, in oil. With limited success the gardenias subtlely tinged my preparation with their moonly exudate, but so did the little aphids.



In twenty six years of living in England – among roses, bluebells and tulips – I never once encountered one of these flowers. And yet to me, the gardenia is now one of the most alluring flowers in existence. In Japan, in the sweltering nights of summer, these thick, hypnotic white flowers nestle amongst succulent dark green leaves and at night give off a beautiful, ghostly, yet fleshy stench, undercut by a mushroom-like aura glowing from the shadows. Often indistinguishable in perfume – one person says its gardenia, another tuberose – there is quite a lot of overlapping. Both are flush, narcotic scents- hypnotizing white flowers – but if the tuberose is the smell of the sunset on skin, the gardenia is the moon, its lunar coldness less overtly sexual than its solar counterpart. This is why a good few Southern Belle perfumes contain this note – it is considered womanly, alluring, yet somehow more ‘appropriate’. To me, gardenia scents, like the flowers, have a certain mystery, and these perfumes suit those of the more quietly languorous persuasion.



As for gardenia theft, the longer I am here, the more I conform (he says, half-convincingly),  and am thus less likely to be pilfering blooms illegally (though this didn’t stop a grave gardenia crime, at night, not that long ago, in the Yamate foreigner’s cemetery, high on the hills over Yokohama. How could we resist them in that light – flourishing and reeking magnificently, next to weeping statues of Mary, as a tree of crows lifted off Poe-like into the night and tomb-guarding cats watched us from the dark…..? Armfuls were stolen: intoxicating, insect-laden….)











This drunken aberration aside, I have largely given up on my mission to capture this fascinating scent by myself, now, and instead merely gaze at them as I walk past on my way home.

















Filed under Flowers, Gardenia, Perfume Reviews

25 responses to “Gardenia Crime

  1. Marina

    Your description of gardenia theft and the scent in the air on those hot summer nights is just magical and transports me through space and time.

  2. ginzaintherain

    Thank you so much. I wondered if I might have been going too far in admitting the true extent of my obsessions. But it is all real. This is me: and those flowers in the night are hypnosis.

  3. seaglasslvr

    So happy to have come across your blog! I have the most gorgeous scented lilies about to open .. I would love to capture their scent… is there a way I can do it? I see how you said you were about to macerate your gardenia in oil? Would I do this? Have a quick 101? I don’t want to miss this. I tried to do this with honeysuckly this spring but what a mess…

  4. ginzaintherain

    Hi Seaglass.

    It sounds as if you are like me: intoxicated by the beauty and desperate to capture it!

    To be honest, my attempts were not very successful, even thought the oil was fairly odorless. I have actually done the same thing with honeysuckle as well, but am not a trained perfumer.

    Perhaps the best thing would be to check out traditional pomade or enfleurage techniques. I would love to know if it works!

    • Oh boy.. whatever THAT is.. !! The last fiasco I worked on was with QVC.. I pulled together a focus group and worked with them on getting the frangrance Tova Signature ‘back’.. We tried and tried.. longevity was the main issue with that..
      And now you want me to use an enfleurage technique.. I have to look that up… the flowers are just about open.. OMG.. what a fragrance… in this steamy NJ air.. it weighs heavy.. being wasted on a lowly garden snake I have roaming around out there… I want it on ME!!
      Sorry about your broken bottle of perfume… your room must smell wonderful though!

  5. You beautiful man. I love everything you write.

  6. Reblogged this on The Black Narcissus and commented:


  7. Katy

    Clean well under cool running water. Draw a hot bath, throw all the gardenias in, breaking some apart if desired. Climb in! Gardenias are an ephemeral thing……

  8. Rafael

    Dying a little from the beauty of this post.

  9. Your blog makes my day! I love the fragrance of gardenia and tuberose.

  10. Renee Stout

    Wow, synchronicity again-the week before last it was honeysuckle, now its Gardenia. I was in New Orleans last week and the guest house where I was staying had a gardenia bush growing in the courtyard. I picked one as I have never smelled an actual gardenia flower before, but instead had come to know the scent through a few perfumer’s interpretations of it. Now I was walking around the French Quarter inhaling the earthy, slightly indolic scent of a real gardenia with every step. Intoxicating is definitely the right word to describe the dizzying effect that the flower had on me. I couldn’t get enough. After the bloom started wilting, I ran straight to the legendary New Orleans perfume house, Hové, to test any perfumes they had that featured the note of gardenia. After smelling the real flower, what they were offering didn’t satisfy me. Can you provide the name of a couple of scents that you feel capture something at least close to the scent of this beguiling flower?

    • I love your descriptions here. I am just reading about New Orleans in Tom Robbins’ Jitterbug perfume so that is also rather beautiful synchronicity.

      I think the most photo-realistic scent of really spongey, mushroomy gardenias is Tom Ford Velvet Gardenia, which has been continued. I also loved Jo Malone’s Vintage Gardenia, which was, of course, then also discontinued. Maybe people can’t cope with the real thing?

  11. Renee Stout

    Oh, never mind, I see that you have a “gardenia” category listed in your archives, so I’ll check that out.

  12. Tara

    You are starting to remind me more and more of the protagonist in “Perfume: The Story of a Murderer” – in the nicest possible way 🙂

  13. Lilybelle

    I adore gardenia. So few perfumes even come close to the actual ephemeral ghostly scent. They’re either too flat or too fake or too shrill. And even the photorealistic gardenia perfumes are missing something, gardenia’s peculiar living presence, I suppose. TF Velvet Gardenia was very good. Estee Lauder’s Private Collection Tuberose Gardenia is gorgeous, but it’s also tuberose. Not that that’s a bad thing. Why on earth was Velvet Gardenia discontinued??? Mr. Ginza, you need your own little potted gardenia to tend. Then you could can enjoy the living blossoms scenting your room.

  14. Nadine

    Gardenias. As a tropical girl transplanted thousands of miles away from her home AGAINST her wishes, I found heaven in….wait for it…IKEA. Bought a gardenia plant and nurtured it on a sunny window sill in my bathroom where it scented the air forever.

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