Roses for noses: It's time to put the smell back into flowers

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The Independent Online
You have just been given the most beautiful bunch of long-stemmed red roses you have ever seen, every bloom a perfect bud of plush red velvet surrounded by glossy dark green leaves. You bury your face into this exquisite bouquet to drink in the heady damask scent but - there isn't any scent] Nothing, except a faint odour of green leaves and tissue paper. Well, it's the thought that counts and they do look lovely. Do you really care that they don't fill the air with a heady, luscious rose fragrance? According to Walter Hart of the British Retail Florists Association, you don't.

'Scent is not an important factor for customers when they buy florists' roses, he told me. 'The general public are more concerned about the aesthetic look than about their smell. They want perfectly shaped buds, all the same size, colour and texture. They want all of them to open at the same time and to last at least a week.

'They want them at a reasonable price and they want them available all year round. The public accepts that to meet those requirements rose growers have had to sacrifice scent.

Most of the London florists I polled agreed.

'Customers aren't fussed about scent, said Julie Bashford of Pugh & Carr.

'Customers don't care, was the blunt reply from the sales person at Felton & Sons.

I spent half an hour fighting the war of the roses with Walter Hart, trying to convince him that customers do care, but the great British public are such an apathetic lot they will quietly accept what it suits retailers to sell them,

whether it be tasteless beer, tasteless fruit and veg, or unscented roses.

But does it really matter whether the florists' roses we give and receive have a scent? According to scientists who study the effect of different scents on human behaviour, it certainly does.

The scent of roses contains phenylethylamine-related compounds which act on the brain to alter mood. A heady whiff of a highly scented rose and, without realising it, we suddenly feel better, happier, mellower. In such a rosy, mildly euphoric glow other people, especially the opposite sex, seem more attractive. In other words, the scent of a rose is a turn on, Nature's first love potion.

The scent of roses can calm and soothe. A bowl of highly scented roses wafting their musky, damask aroma about a room will help to relieve tensions. And hasn't it always been the custom after a spat for the male to try to make up with an irate female by proffering a bunch of roses as a peace offering? In the good old days, before scentless and soulless florists' roses appeared in our lives, a dose of rose scent from a real rose up her olfactories may have calmed her. Nowadays a man in the doghouse can only hope that spending pounds 10 or pounds 20 on the bloomin' odourless things will appeal to her better nature.

Thankfully, all is not lost for those trying to bring the scent back. Three of the 12 London florists I contacted are keen to sell fragrant roses, and Barry Johnson of the Covent Garden wholesalers Scott & Whitlam told me: 'A good fragrant rose sells very well. 'There isn't a great demand at the moment , Walter Hart said, 'but there probably will be in time.

This happy change will probably come about because the Third World has now become the biggest supplier of roses in this world-wide multi-billion-pound business, and Third World countries are ideally suited to growing scented roses. Because of our weather the majority

sold in Europe used to be force-grown in greenhouses in flower-growing areas such as the Channel Islands and the Netherlands. Forcing roses inhibits scent. However, such countries as Kenya, South Africa, Turkey, Israel and Columbia, the new big players in the business, have climates that make it possible to grow roses outdoors all year round. As a result, more and more scented varieties can be grown and are gradually coming on to the market.

Even more heartening, florists like Randal Van Twisk in Pimlico and Rozmina Ladak, who works for Flowers Inc in South Kensington, are keen to sell fragrant roses. 'Customers do look for scent, Mrs Ladak said. 'We have a long-stemmed red rose called Grand Gala which sells well. It has a lovely smell like the fragrance of old roses. We also bought 10 bunches of other scented varieties a few days ago and sold them all.

Randal Van Twisk scours Covent Garden flower market and other outlets looking for fragrant varieties for his shop.

There are, by Walter Hart's count, about 25 scented varieties being sold at one time or another in Covent Garden. However, on the day I trekked all over London I was only able to find a few varieties. At the moment scented roses are only being grown in small quantities, and it is not always easy to find them.

Expect to pay about pounds 1.75 a bloom for a long-stemmed white variety, while a long-stemmed deep red like Royal Gala may cost up to pounds 3 a flower. These days such prices make fragrant roses a once a year luxury for most of us.

What's needed are scented, medium-length varieties that will sell at 10 for a fiver. Africa, South America and the Middle East have the all-year outdoor climate, the land and the labour. All that is lacking are entrepreneurial growers willing to seize the initiative, and demanding customers who understand that scented roses attract more than bees.

(Photograph omitted)