Aah, fragrance! That elusive, evocative, and deeply personal quality of flowers that is so often unexplored in most gardens. Right now, in high summer, my garden is offering up an olfactory buffet.
Coming home after dinner with an old friend from my undergrad days, we were stopped mid-conversation with the the distinctive scent of night blooming jasmine, Cestrum nocturnum, now in full bloom. It was a happy coincidence; years ago this very friend had reminisced about the intoxicating fragrance of Queen of the Night or Hasna Hena as it is known in our native Bengal. I am easily enticed and immediately had a tiny plant in a 4 inch pot shipped to me. After fours years of unimpressive performance, the plant, now a robust 7 feet tall shrub, has finally started to make its presence felt. And how! I haven’t walked around the neighborhood at night to see how far its fragrance wafted, but at least fifty feet away it hung heavily in the air – you couldn’t breathe without smelling it. I watched with a sense of pride and triumph as my friend closed her eyes and took a deep breath, a wave of memories washing over her. Because that’s the thing, it’s so much more than the scent itself, a slight whiff can transport you to the time and place and person where the fragrance left its imprint.
Another jasmine in bloom now in my garden, a true jasmine in this case, is the Arabian jasmine, Jasminum sambac. I grow a few varieties; Mysore Mulli is the one with the strongest fragrance, Belle of India, the most beautiful. Heady, sensuous and redolent of warm, languorous evenings. My one potted bush has really outdone herself this year. To step out onto the patio is to be enveloped in its fragrance. Where and when I grew up, movies at the cinema were a special event – the ladies dressed up in bright silk sarees, a touch of gold jewelry, and the traditional garland of jasmine pinned to long braided hair. I imagine whispered conversations among the couples in the darkened theater, the scent of jasmine wordlessly promising more pleasures to come.