Once I knew the fragrance of the star jasmine’s flower, I was at its mercy. It’s blooming right now in Seattle and I know I’m not alone. Last week, during my summer herbaceous plants class, we stood on a corner identifying perennials in someone’s yard when the scent drifted toward us. See the trumpet lilies—Huh? Sorry, we’re looking for the star jasmine! It was there, somewhere, but we never found it.
I have a few star jasmine1 plants and every year they transport me to the island of Oahu, Hawaii, where my grandpa lived. It’s a new portal. Three years ago, after buying these plants to fill a steel lattice and screen our neighbor’s driveway, it opened for me. Before I entered the fourth grade, my sisters and I stayed in Hawaii for a few weeks, while my parents drove from Indianapolis to our new house in Vancouver, Washington. As they made their way West, I searched for geckos, and, apparently, cozied up to some star jasmine. So now when I catch the scent—now that I know the scent—I’m taken back to that vacation.
The memories of that summer mostly involve a wakeboard or the orange skateboard I got at the Honolulu flea market, but I still have a sense of the lush plants that filled the parks, my grandpa’s street, and the walk to the beach. The star jasmine was there, somewhere, with its unmistakable, sweet aroma that always seems to ebb just before it overwhelms. As I write this, my plants are flopped beside me in the backyard. I moved them here in the spring because they stopped climbing the lattice and the leaves had gone red. But now they’re happy and turning dark green. And flowering—can’t you tell?
When I was back here the other day, I called my mom and told her about Hawaii. It made sense to her, though she told me that she had grown star jasmine herself, on our patio in Novato, California. This was about five years after Hawaii but I don’t remember these vines. Which isn’t to say I ignored them. That patio bordered a small patch of grass that the neighbors and I turned into a tiny baseball diamond. In the summer we were out there all day, unless we hit too many fouls balls into the towering palms. So if star jasmine was lining right field then it would have certainly filled our little stadium.
Because when it’s close, it’s unavoidable. Michael Dirr, who’s giant books are sprinkled with colorful bits, writes in his Encylopedia of Trees & Shrubs:
“I had lunch in August, Georgia, where a woven fence surrounding the eating area was covered with this species. Never did a cheeseburger taste (and smell) so delectable.”
Scent is strongly tied to memory, sure, but does it stick to the most profound? Your earliest? Most delicious? Why does star jasmine take me back to Oahu and not Novato? It doesn’t really matter, I suppose, it led me to both places eventually and right now I’m exactly where I want to be. It smells pretty good out here.