OUTDOOR INCENSE has come a long way since those hardware-store coils you picked up along with your barbecue charcoal. While the jury is still out on the question of whether stinky, smoke-born citronella significantly repels mosquitoes, new versions of al fresco scent aim higher—bringing instant atmosphere and more sophisticated fragrances (like clove, cedarwood and clary sage) to the party. Some outdoor incense sticks are nearly 2 feet long, able to burn for 2-3 hours.
Teissia Treynet, founder of New York City-based party planner Firefly Events, fires up incense to set convivial moods at outdoor soirees, from luxury weddings to intimate dinner parties. Musk and tobacco scents conjure a romantic, cozy vibe in winter, and floral-focused incense complements the warmer months’ natural perfumes.
Despite the seeming futility of trying to scent an unbound space, Mrs. Treynet actually prefers using incense outside. “Inside it can become a little too much. Outdoors, you get subtle wafts of the smell,” she said. Strategic placement, especially on windy days, helps smoke drift most desirably.
Uday Rao holds up the Indonesian island of Bali as proof that plein-air incense isn’t a folly. The general manager of the two Four Seasons Resort Bali properties (at Jimbaran Bay and Sayan), Mr. Rao pointed to sticks of burning incense tucked into the banana-leaf baskets of flowers, cookies and other things that the Balinese leave on sidewalks and doorsteps to honor the Hindu gods. “The scent of burning incense is one of the things that people will always remember after visiting Bali,” he said.
The Floral Society’s Essential Oil Outdoor Incense comes in three decidedly un-medicinal fragrances: one warm and moody with notes of cinnamon leaf, sage and coffee; another bright and herbaceous thanks to a blend of tea tree and lavender; and a third that gets its light, sweet scent from lemon grass, orange and clary sage. Madison James’s Flyaway Sticks have dominant notes of clove and cedar that emit a complex, woodsy scent when lit. And Skeem Design’s Citronella Sea Salt Incense has a bright, grassy-citrus fragrance that’s tinged with jasmine. Each scent is nuanced and layered to make any outdoor gathering more memorable than routine patio cocktails.