I'M ALMOST ashamed to mention the night jasmine, Cestrum nocturnum . Since I no longer grow it, yet if nobody speaks of glory, how can it survive?
This "jasmine" comes from South America -- Chile, actually -- and it has a weedy potato-vine look to it, though the lance-shaped glossy medium-thick leaves of medium green are pleasant enough.
But you'd never grow it for its foliage, nor for its habit. It sends up four to seven stems, the size of a pencil, from the ground, and these arch weakly out to perhaps six feet in an established plant.
But the glory of this creature is its scent, which is positively frightful in its strength and its insistence, a rich sickly sweet sugar smell with an undertone of clove, and it is unspeakably wonderful.
It starts blooming in July, reaching its highest passion towards Labor Day, and I am not sure a card-carrying Puritan like myself should speak of it.
About 8 or 9 o'clock at night it exhales, it puffs out, a most devilish and angelic scent. It ruins the taste of any food, though abandoned hostesses of the South sometimes put sprigs of it among the posies on the dinner table.
This should never be done, needless to say. The secnt of the night jasmine renders identical the flavors of beets and leeks, mutton and trout.
Refined persons and cold persons will not have it on the place, but wavering types sometimes consent to grow it outside the house and let its scent waft in through the kitchen windows. Risky folk even plant it beneath the dining room windows, but that is going a bit far.
Some gardeners, of whom I blush to confess myself one, have actually cut great panicles of the flowers, like fall hydrangeas only with tiny individual blooms, and brought them indoors.
I think it was novelist Proust who said the things we regret most at the last are the things we never dared allow our hearts to desire. I am not sure what that means. But I thought of the night jasmine when I first read it.
It is not a sweet scent like the carnation, the lily of the valley, the damask rose. It is not even sweet like the iris, or even like the (much more suspect) lily.
It is a scent of utter abandon. And yet it is not ugly, but very sweet. I really do not know what to think of the night jasmine. It is very vulgar, in a way, and very noble, in a way.
I do not grow it for the simple reason that in this absurd nation at the moment I cannot find a handy source for it.
You might think a plant so exceptional would be offered, among the zinnias, at every garden center. And so it would, if garden centers were run by lovers of summer flowers.
It is far otherwise. Your best chance is to find it in some out-of-the-way greenhouse, where the owner is perhaps a learned plantsman, and where certain plants like this Cestrum are valued, even if the capsule commentaries of the mass media never mention them.
Up here you had better bring the night jasmine indoors for the winter, or else mulch it with a foot of litter, not removing it until mid-April.
All I mean to say today is that it is a startling ornament of gardens, not handsome to see, and as I have said somewhat weedy like a Solanum, but startling to smell. It makes gardeners go mad, when the scent is borne across water or over a distance of 50 feet on the night air.
There are times I believe there is not enough madness, and too many marigolds.