I remember my childhood disappointment upon learning that January's birthstone was the lowly garnet.* Disliking its bull's-blood hue, I experienced pinpricks of jealousy towards those destined (by just a week!) to wear the delicate violet amethyst of February. However, when I began to delve into mineralogy I discovered almandine, spessartine, pyrope, demantoid, tsavorite, uvarovite, and topazolite. All garnets... and all gorgeous. Now I could choose any color of the rainbow -- amethyst violet, emerald green, or the sunset pink of a padparadscha sapphire -- and revel in the added satisfaction that my birthstone wouldn't bankrupt me.
Coming to terms with the garnet took some effort, but I never had any such doubts about the carnation. I love January's birth flower-- and I don't mean the bio-engineered variety found in florists' refrigerators. Genus Dianthus -- also known as pinks, sweet Williams, and gillyflowers (from the French œillet-giroflée)-- are most beautiful and most fragrant when allowed to grow nearly wild; the sight of hundreds of tiny, ruffly boutonnières exploding from a barely-tended garden patch makes me purely happy.
Like the garnet, the inexpensive carnation is regarded as common, even low-class-- a beggar's flower worth a dime a dozen. But they come in so many dazzling gemlike hues, who could despise their genealogy? This is why Ellen Olenska angrily rejected Julius Beaufort's "extraordinarily large bouquet of crimson roses" but kept Mr. and Mrs. van der Luydens' humble, handgrown Skuytercliff carnations. These were the blossoms that truly reflected her innermost Gypsy heart.
Traditional American flower lore assigns the wan snowdrop to January babies. More contemporary sources try to sell us on exotica such as sea holly, bird-of-paradise, protea, yucca, aloe, arum lily, orchid, jack-in-the-pulpit, pitcher plant, cornflower, Solomon's seal, trillium, or gladiolus. Cornflowers I wouldn't mind; with their fringed petals, they look enough like Dianthus, and they come in the only color carnations can't (due to the latter's inability to produce the blue pigment delphinidin). But cornflowers' fragrance is negligibly light-- nothing like carnations' assertive scent, reminiscent of old-fashioned pastel candy hearts liberally imbued with essences of violet, clove, and black pepper.
Sweet flower, bold spice: this is the soul of Bellodgia.
I have before me three versions of Caron's 1927 floral classic: a modern EdT courtesy of Blacknall Allen, a vintage EdP courtesy of APB's Natalie, and a vintage extrait which Blacknall and I discovered together at the Red Bank Antique Emporium. From the first incarnation (ha!) to the last, Bellodgia's blossom deepens in scent and becomes more concentrated-- and each calls a different floral vision to my mind's eye.
The EdT strikes me as a single, pale-apricot carnation pillowed in a few sprays of baby's breath (coincidentally also a member of the Caryophyllaceae) and shimmering with florists' iridescent glitter. This is by far the sweetest of the trio, a sugar-dusted dream flower that imposes itself upon one's senses no more than a transient blush does upon one's complexion.
The EdP is a bouquet of "spray" carnations from the garden -- smaller but more profuse and peppery-fresh, and of a more saturated color palette. Not as sweet but somehow more appetizing than the EdT, its pronounced notes of violet, almond, and vanilla make it the most gourmand Bellodgia of the three.
The extrait is an overflowing armful of wild-gathered meadow pinks, their carmine hue glowing so hotly that their foliage appears slate-blue by contrast. In these tiny Fauvist flowers, the greatest concentration of clovelike scent awaits; the warmth of bare skin releases it in a heady, spicy swirl that leaves me dizzy. It is also sweet, but bear in mind that a cordial's dulcet flavor only serves to seduce while the true work of intoxication is carried out.** Other versions of Bellodgia may provide soft, romantic backdrop; this one demands the foreground and holds it unchallenged for several blissful hours.
Humble though it may seem, the carnation is a flower of power. I can't help but be fascinated. You too, you say? Œillet, œillet!
Here's some paeans to the pink that you'll be sure to love:
Blacknall Allen of A Perfume Blog: The Carnation Factotum and The Christmas Flower
Mals of Muse in Wooden Shoes:An Explosion of Scented Petals: Carnation Scents Part I and Part II
Annie of BlogdorfGoodman: 40 Days and 40 Nights of Fragrance: Carnation
Victoria of Bois de Jasmin tackles the genre!
*I say "lowly" because most garnets are pulverized for use in industrial abrasives. The most precious stones -- like emeralds, sapphires, or pearls -- seem to be those for which there are few uses except the purely decorative; even those garnets fine enough to qualify as gemstones are considered only SEMI-precious by this standard.
**Carnations are edible, and recipes incorporating their petals abound; the simplest recipe for carnation liqueur I have found calls for macerating freshly-picked fragrant clove-pink petals along with cloves and cinnamon in good vodka for a month, then adding simple syrup to taste before bottling it. I would like to try my hand at making this liqueur with organically-grown clove-pinks, which surely must be grown somewhere in this great Garden State.
Scent Elements: Carnation, rose, jasmine, violet, lily-of-the-valley, clove, vanilla, sandalwood, musk