Monday, May 11, 2015

This season makes scents

On my way to town the other day, I stopped by my neighbor's house to pick up some eggs. As I carried them back to the car, my neighbor plucked a gardenia bloom off a large bush by his house and gave it to me.

"Thank you," I said. "I love the way gardenias smell."

After securing the eggs so they'd travel undamaged, I slid into my seat and placed the gardenia on the dashboard. The flower's fragrance filled the air. Instead of being in the cozy confines of my compact car, I suddenly felt as though I had entered a flower shop.

How to freshen your auto's air the natural way:  Place gardenias on the dashboard 

Gardenias are only one of numerous flowering plants that are currently infusing the atmosphere with their aromatic charms. Others include white and purple wisterias, four-o'clocks, butterfly gingers, roses, magnolia blossoms and the small white blooms of Confederate jasmine. While I enjoy each flower's unique fragrance, Confederate jasmine might just be my favorite because of its transformative quality as well as its ability to saturate the air with sweetness.

Confederate jasmine entwined around a pink oleander bush

Despite its name, Confederate jasmine is neither a true jasmine nor is it native to southeastern U.S. Scientifically known as Trachelospermum jasminoides, this Chinese native is a fast-growing, disease-resistant, drought tolerant vine that boasts small, sticky, pinwheel-shaped white flowers from late spring through summer. Although all parts of the plant are poisonous if ingested, I find its intoxicating fragrance and delicate beauty more than compensates for its toxic features.

Like most vines, Confederate jasmine is a climber. It likes to climb and climb and climb some more. A single plant will quickly overtake a tree, a house, a wall or a fence. Several years ago, I planted a few small sprigs along an ugly clay wall that parallels our driveway. With little more than hope to go on, I stuck the young starts into the ground with minimal care and even less preparation and then promptly forgot about them. Without even realizing it was happening, the clay wall began to disappear. Bit by bit, the plant's coverage increased. Today, the clay wall is almost entirely covered by a screen of green leaves and white blooms. And the air — oh, my goodness — how amazing it smells whenever I step outside!

The clay wall by our house hidden behind an expanding screen of Confederate jasmine vines

Of all the places where I see it growing — and during this time of year, I see Confederate jasmine alongside most roads and in every neighborhood I pass through — the setting I like best is when it covers a fence. Confederate jasmine planted along a chain-link fence not only perfumes the air, it also manages to transform an ugly structure into a botanical showcase.

With so many fragrant flowers to choose from during Central Florida's warm-weather season, the need for artificial air fresheners should be non-existent. Three days after I placed my neighbor's flower on my car's dashboard, the solitary gardenia bloom continues to infuse the auto's interior with floral perfume. When its fragrance finally abates, I probably will replace it with a few sprigs of Confederate jasmine or, if I feel in the mood for a spicier aroma, a snippet or two of rosemary, basil or peppermint leaves will do the trick.

In this period of floral profusion, it's more relevant than ever to take time — to make time — to smell the roses.

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