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Green Acre #225: All That Jasmine

This is LittleBird Stephanie’s African jasmine, which blooms repeatedly indoors throughout the year. / Photo by Stephanie Cavanaugh.

JASMINE IS not difficult to grow. While a tropical or semi-tropical plant, and given to abrupt and shocking death if exposed to extended freezing temperatures, if brought inside for the winter, given some sunlight and moist soil, it will do just fine.

The scent of the flowers, the only reason to bother since it’s an uninteresting plant without them, is not to everyone’s taste. There’s an underlying musky, musty, intensely overripe sweetness to the flowers that I imagine some would call unpleasant, possibly repugnant, perhaps even a stench. I love them, though, and have mentioned time and again that I don’t even know how I have acquired so many. I just see one and say, Oh! Jasmine! And somehow it is brought home.

I do know how I fell in love with them. It was in Key West, ambling down one of the narrow palm-and-hibiscus-lined side streets on a sultry evening, when I was hit by a blast, a tidal wave of scent, and stopped, paralyzed, nose aloft and twitching beside a wall of jasmine. The scent from one grown in a pot on the porch is one thing; a wall of it is incapacitating.

This was nearly 40 years ago, a time when gays and writers had taken over the country’s Southernmost Point, transforming it from Hemingway’s hideaway into a playground for . . . more gays and writers and malingering hippies and assorted dreamers.  The food was glorious, the homes and guest houses magnificent, and the shops along Duval Street held exotic finds, artsy stuff, and essentials like fuchsia boas. Cruise ships were as yet few as were the shops touting T-shirts and touristy rubbish.

The Prince and I stayed at Eden House, a place that we’ve returned to many times in years since. Beyond simple, almost a hostel, or a convent, but a very sexy hostel or convent that attracted a European clientele, and a Babel of languages around the small pool, which suited us.

If our accommodations were simple, our dining was not. There was The Buttery (long gone), Louie’s Backyard and the Pier House, but best of all was La Te Da, a restaurant and guest house celebrated for its decadence. Built as a private home in the 1890s, the rooms surround a courtyard pool, with the restaurant sheltered by a pink canopy off to one side. Raised up on a platform and surrounded by a white wooden fence to keep diners from falling into the tropical shrubbish, the tables were candlelit and draped in pink cloths.

The gorgeous waiters, in pink Speedos that matched the canopy and napery, were clearly selected for their packaging. Moving with lubricated sleekness, white teeth gleaming, trays held aloft on tanned, lightly muscled arms, they sashayed smoothly between tables. It was a sight we’ll probably never see again—outside of, perhaps, a private club.

Imagine Raul from the local Mexican joint in a Speedo, belly quivering above . . . oh, never mind. Sometimes political correctness really messes with one’s pleasures.

This was like looking at a chorus of Greek gods stepped from their museum pedestals murmuring the delights of white truffled sole meunière and veal scallops marsala with wild mushrooms.

Anyway. In anticipation of this tropical idyll, My Prince had purchased a white dinner jacket. His dad had one, he said, and he’d always wanted something similar. Though I had misgivings about the ultimate utility of such a purchase, we went off to Lord & Taylor (sigh) and found a natty double-breasted number with gold buttons. Who could quibble about utility when he looked so dashing?

This he wore to dinner at La Te Da that first night. I, no doubt, wore something black and probably slinky as I was small enough back then to slink. We sat along the rail, waiters wandering by, Piaf singing Frenchly in the background, the food divine. Ah, the romance. The elegance.

Pause to admire us for a bit here, please.

Then, mid some speech and gesture, his fork flew over the railing and into the bushes.

I looked about for a waiter to replace it and as I turned back saw My Prince up and clambering over the fence, dropping down and scrambling about for the fork even as a waiter slid a fresh one onto the table. Climbing back over, waving the fork at me in triumph, he brushed off his jacket and settled back to his dinner.

I ate quietly for a minute or two, possibly less. Then said: Next time something like this happens, please ask yourself, What would James Bond do?

We’ll be married 38 years tomorrow. The dinner jacket is still in his closet, maybe waiting for an eventual dinner dance at the senior living center that Baby will stuff us into one of these days.

Getting back to our topic of the day. There are many varieties of jasmine: shrub, vines, whatnot. No matter which you choose, it’s a fine and easy plant to grow. You’ll probably have difficulty finding it at a garden center mid-winter in the North, but if you’re really hungry right now for a whiff of the tropics you can buy one at Amazon, of course.

—Stephanie Cavanaugh

LittleBird “Stephanie Gardens” mixes memory and horticulture in a very satisfying way. 

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7 thoughts on “Green Acre #225: All That Jasmine

  1. stephanie cavanaugh says:

    Thank you Robert. He can wear the black beret that matches his Speedo. Call him Pierre.

  2. robert weinstein says:

    Any place named La Te Da has got to be good. This article was fun. I loved the pink speedo images. The Prince going over the rail is so like him, some things don’t change.

    Happy anniversary maybe he should take out the double-breasted, gold button jacket for dinner, does he have a captain’s cap to go with it?

  3. Colleen Ward says:

    Enjoyed the article!! So relaxing and dreaming of Key West in January. Loved the part of your husband retrieving the fork in the bushes!

    Happy Anniversary!

    Colleen

  4. Maggie Hall says:

    I’m never going to buy a Jasmine – not because of the “stench” but because it will remind me/long for (via your memories) of those long ago lost days of “carry on debauchery”…

  5. stephanie cavanaugh says:

    Thanks Debbie. I bought this particular jasmine years ago, at the Philadelphia Flower Show. I haven’t seen its like again. The scent is gorgeous. Its habit is shrubby, not leggy, so it’s happy in a pot and makes a nice bush.

  6. Debbie says:

    Where do you buy this jasmine?

    1. Nancy McKeon says:

      Debbie, I went hunting around online and found several African and South African jasmines, but they all seemed to be white. So I’m afraid we have failed you!

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