Many blossoms are fragrant, but for me none feel as evocative as those two.
Billie Holiday, tortured, talented lady of the blues, must have gotten some slight, sweet relief from her life's demons by wearing gardenia in her hair. And, we who grew up where gardenia is hardy, and the nights are hot, know and love that heavy, heady Southern fragrance as the symbol of summer's divine decadence. The senses race, while life slows; that's gardenia time.
|Gardenia, Symbol of Divine Decadence|
Nourishing that recollection is, perhaps, why I work so hard to grow gardenias. In Connecticut. In winter.
In January I bought two potted plants that were filled with buds. I misted them daily and watched as they held on through the spring, still budded tight. I barely got them outside before they were run over by spider mites and the sheer oppressiveness of being cooped up for months.
It was not until June that the buds began to open. And, once they started, they released a flood of good smells that continues at this writing.
The Southern magnolia requires a lot of patience and commitment too, as the tree traditionally didn't survive around here. Now, cultivars like Bracken's Brown Beauty get through winters even as tough as the most recent one. I've grown mine three summers, getting blooms in two of those. The first blossoms of this year opened just after Independence Day, releasing that delicious lemony fragrance so familiar in my boy days when climbing a magnolia was far better than going to a gym.
|Magnolia Blooms Have Gone to College . . . Beeless|
Magnolia's big, creamy white blossoms are so prized that Southern women tell stories about packing the flowers in their suitcases as they head off to college. Floating a bloom in a bowl of water was the sweetest connection to home for them. I've heard the same stories about gardenia blooms – and some of those come from Northerners whose people grew gardenias in greenhouses.
I understand the suitcases, the flowers, the bowls. Connections matter. Whether to a place on the map, or one in the mind.