“This is the best time of year to sell a house in Houston,” confessed my friend Cliff, the high-end realtor, and he wasn’t talking about the weather. On this early evening in late April, we were strolling by a thick hedge of blooming jasmine, the aroma of hundreds of star-like miniature white flowers making us forget, momentarily, any and all troubles.
Few would argue that spring isn’t the best season in Houston. We don’t have a fall, and winters are all too brief and rainy. And then there is the hell that rages from, some would say, mid-June until the first of November. It’s in the springtime that this aesthetically challenged place looks and feels so pretty: the weeks of cool temperatures and crystalline skies can start as early as late February (they did this year) as does the riot of scarlet, cerulean, salmon, and cottony white azalea bushes that make Houston seem almost psychedelic. But something about jasmine bores deeper into the psyche and creates a more direct hit that Proust might admire.
Its fragrance is hard to describe—“saturating” “delicious,” and “sweet” are the most frequently used modifiers, but they never seem quite right. I guess I would choose “sweetly intoxicating,” because, walking by a huge privet of the stuff can make even the most determined brooder lighten up, if only for a few seconds.
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And it’s elusive. You don’t want to get your nose too close without checking for bees, and overwhiffing brings less, not more, of the scent. The best way to enjoy jasmine is to let the breeze bring it to you, so the sensory experience comes and goes and comes back again. Trying to hoard it does no good, either. Star jasmine doesn’t do well as a cut flower, unlike its sultrier Southern cousin, the gardenia. It’s best left alone, appreciated for its toughness and loyalty, the way it returns year after year, usually with the gift of more blossoms. It’s very hard to kill.
Finally, there’s the message. Just as the azaleas herald the beginning of spring, jasmine is a harbinger of the end. The flowers bloom for a week or two and then are gone, the deep-green, waxy leaves taking over for another year. The night breezes disappear around the same time, replaced by the thick, wet weight of the long Houston summer, where there’s nothing to wait for but a handful of summer tomatoes if you are lucky enough to save them from the birds, and the sign of the first blue norther that is still months away.