Once upon a time my dad brought home a wonderful jasmine plant. Its foliage was a lush teal green, its blooms a celestially radiant white, and it emitted the most majestic aroma – pure, Arabian nectar with an angelic glow. If I hadn’t been so young and hazy-minded at the time, I would have done everything to learn about this precious flower and how to give it the best care. Unfortunately, in dull damp England, which clearly wasn’t the dear thing’s native country, and without the highest maintenance, the lovely plant began to rot in its moist, dense under-layers, with strange grey mushrooms appearing in its soil. The plant quickly disintegrated, to my sadness. But I never forgot this fine variety; it had made an imprint on my soul, in that way that plants and people have a peculiar, primal connection.
Years later, which is from now a few months ago, I wanted to rediscover and attempt to grow this special flower that my dad had once found at a market in a similar way that in a market in olden-day India, one might happen to find an exquisite silk embroidered scarf. So I set out to do some research. I soon learned that the flower I once had doesn’t fit the prototype of ‘common’ jasmine, the most popular fragrant species being Jasminium officinale. I ploughed on to find that mine was the less known, less global (but more, I daresay, beautiful and majestic) species, Jasminium sambac, the specific variety being ‘Grand Duke of Tuscany’. Sadly, native to the region of my ancestral origin, South Asia, they are virtually impossible to get hold of here in England, meaning my wonderful, brief experience with it a few years ago must have been down to what many would call luck, but which I call fate.
Wanting to fill the hole in my heart, I sought authentic jasmine perfumes that might echo this beloved flower. After much research and selection I went for ‘Tahitian Gardenia’ by Pacifica which claimed to smell like jasmine and orange (I’d always imagined the smell of a sweet jasmine to go with orange, another scent I have affinity with). This is the closest-smelling perfume to sambac jasmine I own to this day although Penhaligon’s Gardenia is also similar to Pacifica’s. This isn’t to say that even at the time I did not appreciate gardenia’s own character; I did, as my lovely gardenia perfume in comparison to the sambac flower was calmer, greener, and more dewy, which I loved. Nevertheless it seemed gardenia and sambac jasmine (particularly Grand Duke of Tuscany) would have similarities in scent – and they certainly look similar, with gardenia often being called ‘cape jasmine’. Now, we regularly drive out to Willington to visit Frost’s and recently I was delighted to find in their indoor section a batch of adorable gardenia plants, and when I sniffed, indeed it reminded me of that jasmine flower years ago; and after choosing a bud-full plant, I purchased in a heartbeat.
Like sambac jasmine, again gardenia is native to more tropical regions but is also possible to grow them indoors in England. They are naturally lush and healthy, retaining water well, but what I did notice is that although they may have many buds, plant food is essential to get those buds to blossom, so we regularly enrich the soil with Miracle Grow. Once gardenia does blossom, it is utterly splendid, one of the cutest looking flowers I have seen. Their creamy petals and thick leaves mirror their beautiful aroma, an enchanting mix of vanilla and green tea. Gardenia’s spirit is romantic, peaceful and divine – a wonderful talisman to keep in the home.