THE CAROLINA jasmine should be in every garden where elegance of leaf and flower are valued, and where fragrance of the most happy and pure strength is admired.
If this plant were new, from Sikkim, I know I would go to almost any length to obtain it and would willingly pay $50 for a rooted cutting if I had to.
The vine has leaves half the length of one's little finger, and pointed at the end, and they hang straight down giving a shingled effect where the plant is grown on wires. The tubular flowers are yellow, flared at the ends into little trumpets, and in mid-April they breathe out a strong light perfume with an underlying hint of croup-kettle.
It is said the nectar is bad for bees, making them drunk and indeed poisoning them, but I have not noticed anything but bumblebees on the flowers anyway. I feel an obligation to fish out bees if I see them floundering about in the water of the lily pool, but I do not feel a responsibility to refrain from growing this jasmine even if - and I do not know if it is true - its flowers are bad for bees.
When I was in school we lived in rooming houses our first year and the house next to ours had a verandah supporting this jasmine.
A quarter-century or so after the school gave up trying to turn me into an educated fellow, I was back in that town and noticed this same jasmine fallen on evil days, since the big house, once alive with perhaps 40 young men rooming in it, had been abandoned and was going to be torn down, and already timbers and bricks here and there were coming apart.
The jasmine itself, which had always been trim and dense in Miss Betty's time, flopped any which way on the ground, running out in long wiry strands trying to find something on which to climb. I pulled off a twig near the ground, without roots, and persuaded it to root by the side of my garage where, after sulking a year or so, it began it climb on some wires I put on the wall for it.
The botanical name of the vine is Gelsemium sempervirens (the true jasmines are in the genus Jasminum, and the Confederate jasmine is a Trachelospermum) and in the wild, in woodlands of the Southeast running perhaps 200 miles inland, it reaches maybe 50 feet, clambering about on trees. It usually gets its start on some sapling of persimmon or pawpaw or sassafras or choke cherry and takes off from there to other trees when it finds the chance to do so. It twines and is marvelously content on a wire fence, except it appreciates shelter and does not care for windswept prairies.
In Tennessee there was a pretty garden where the main axis was about half a mile long. Near one end was a tremendous old oak.
The trunk was perhaps 25 feet in circumference, maybe more, and bare of branches for about 30 feet. On this tremendous trunk, wire netting had been fixed for the Carolina jasmine to grow on, so that the vine formed a vertical oval rug maybe 25 feet high and covering half the trunk.
If it tried to sprawl out, it was clipped back, and therefore made a solid flat mat maybe a foot thick, and you could smell its flowers for a good 200 feet, I would guess.
Another garden I liked had a breezeway between the parts of the house supported by 6-inch posts, and this jasmine was dense along the top.
Once we had a pecan tree planted from seed, about 1917, which had been sawed off at 10 feet from the ground, in order not to crowd a sister tree planted from a nut the same year. The big tree was approaching 90 feet in height, I suppose, while the little one that we kept pruned down was only a 10-foot pole with a crown of branches like a pollarded sycamore. I cannot think why we never sawed it down completely, but we didn't. We completely surrounded its trunk with fence wire and this jasmine made a neat dense cylinder all about the trunk. This was in a square of land 50 feet on the side, used for the dogs, and too shady for grass - there was not much except some January-blooming crocuses in drifts and batches of daffodils in spring followed by Guernsey lilies in fat clumps in September. Along with a glorious clump of bamboo (Phyllostachys henonis).
This pecan trunk solid with the jasmine showed up nicely in that dog run. The hounds did occasionally snap off the stems of the Guernsey lilies, in case you wonder, and in some years took a perverse contentment in napping on top of the crocuses when they were in flower.
Now sometimes in the Loosahatchie Bottoms I would catch a whiff of this jasmine, which I always thought must have escaped from gardens, since I do not think it grows wild that far up the Mississippi River, but it was always a reasurring thing to smell when the woodlands were just stirring and the trees were not out in full leaf yet.
In sheltered places there is no reason this vine could not be grown on a low wire fence and kept clipped like an evergreen hedge. Or since so much of the capital is a dank woods anyway, it could be grown in those littie wildernesses of plant oddments struggling along beneath a tall tree (usually a disgusting maple). But this vine could not be planted too near the big tree, since it likes plenty of moisture.
It is an ideal vine, by the way, for growing on the little porches at the front doors of so many houses here - the jasmine on one side for April, say, and the wild Japanese clematis on the other side for September, and surely there is something wrong when such sites are ignored by gardeners.
The Carolina jasmine is commonly offered for sale in the spring - I would start poking about in early April - at local garden centers, usually in 6-inch plastic pots huddled together in a forlorn way.
Who would ever think, seeing a wiry weak strand or two growing in a plastic pot somewhat smashed in at the side, that within three years this pathetic creature would become a nice mat 8 feet high and 4 feet wide, delighting its owner every April.
The flowering season only lasts a few days - two weeks, perhaps - and then there are no flowers, not even a few stray ones, till the next spring. I am sorry to say that wasps enjoy building nests in this vine, but then my experience is that wasps enjoy building nests everywhere except the bottom of the lily pool. Theoretically the queen wasps may be destroyed by knocking them dead with a battledore in early spring, but since I am even more alarmed by the queen wasps than by regular ones, and since a battledore is never at hand at the right time, I do nothing.
I have learned that few plants appreciate rotted manure more than this jasmine. It makes all the difference in the general look. With manure the vine becomes tropically dense and twiggy and the foliage fairly bursts with life and vigor. The leaves are touched with bronze in winter, and in severe winters, or in exposed locations, many of them drop off.
As I write this I like to think that 10 years from now somebody basking under his great old Carolina jasmine will say he was glad I once called his attention to the plant. If you run the hose on it once a week in the summer for the first two years, you will get results that much quicker.