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The literary and literal allure of jasmine

February 24, 2010 |  7:18 am

This weekend I noticed the first jasmine flowers bursting out of their slender pink buds and was reminded of how I wound up in Southern California.

It was a passage in Joan Didion's 1967 essay "Goodbye to All That" that convinced me to move to Los Angeles from New York. "I could see the moon on the Pacific and smell jasmine all around and we both knew that there was no longer any point in keeping the apartment we still kept in New York," she wrote. I remember thinking, what kind of moron lives where there is no jasmine?

A few years ago, Dry Garden columnist Emily Green wrote a wonderful garden story for the Times about jasmine. Here's how it begins:

It might happen tonight. Or tomorrow. But it won't happen gradually. It will come all at once. All over Los Angeles, the first pink buds of jasmine will erupt into sprays of new white flowers. The display will be chaste enough for a wedding arbor -- until nightfall. Then those blameless blossoms will let rip with a decidedly frank perfume, a mix of sweetness and musk that will refuse to be upstaged by any other smell L.A. can throw at it. Exhaust. Fire. Freshly manured lawns. At that moment, the first great swelling of spring will rise over the city in a sudden night fog of jasmine.

A less romantic take than Didion's, perhaps, but no less evocative. In Green's full story, you'll learn about who that scent is supposed to attract (hint: they're white and fluttery) and how to plant jasmine of your own. 

-- Deborah Netburn

Photo credit: Deborah Netburn