Thursday, September 11, 2008

Yasimin, Jessamine

<em>Jasminum officinale</em> <em>Jasminum officinale</em> in the Trie Garden

The potted jasmines that perfume the gardens, and make a paradise of Trie Cloister, are in full flush and will flower for many weeks to come. The jasmines sold as house plants by nurseries and garden centers in the Northeast are often not the true or poet’s jasmine, Jasminum officinale, but a more frost-tender species, Jasminum polyanthum. Sometimes called winter jasmine, it is very heavily scented, but not so sweetly fragrant as the poet’s jasmine.

Jasminum officinale has been at home in a sheltered, sunny position in the bed under the parapet wall in Bonnefont Garden and has wintered over there for some years. The plants grown in terra rossa pots are the same species, but are a distinct form, J. officinale forma affine.

The color of the buds on these beautiful plants is a deep pink, although the flowers, slightly larger than the species, open pure white.  The fragrance is delightful even during the day. (Jasmines are most fragrant in the evening. ) Long prized for its scent, jasmine is still grown in great quantities at Grasse, which was already a center for perfumery in the Middle Ages.

Native to the Himalayas of western China and introduced into European gardens from the East, jasmine was a relative latecomer to those regions not in close contact with the Arab world. 

Ibn Bassal (c. 1080), author of a famous treatise known as The Book of Agriculture, reported that the jasmines he planted in the Sultan’s garden were also to be found growing in the vicinity of Valencia, Sicily, and Alexandria. Jasmines, including J. officinale, feature prominently in other Arabic horticultural treatises, and several kinds were introduced into Andalusian gardens during the twelfth century.  In Islamic gardens, yasimin (from the Persian, anglicized very prettily as “jessamine”)  was used to relieve the monotony of whitewashed walls with its delicate green stems and pinnate leaves, although jasmines were also prized for their perfume. (James Dickie, “The Islamic Garden in Spain,” in The Islamic Garden, ed. E. MacDougall, 1976.)

Jasmine was to work its way west, as a medicine, a perfume, a garden flower, and a symbol. More on that to come…

—Deirdre Larkin

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Comments (2)

  1. Marge Hughes Says:

    I loved your jasmine officinale in the garden. Would you be able to tell me where I can purchase the plant?

  2. Deirdre Larkin Says:

    Dear Marge,

    I’m not sure if the plant you admire is the snowy white straight species, Jasminum officinale, which you would have seen trained on willow supports in the garden beds, or Jasminum officinale ‘Affine,’ a particularly beautiful form flushed with pink on the buds and the reverse of the petals. We grow the second form in pots, although it is probably not much more tender than the form we grow in the ground. We purchased our jasmines some years ago from Logee’s Greenhouses in Connecticut, a mail-order firm that specializes in tender and tropical plants, but Logee’s is by no means the only mail-order source. Are you familiar with Dave’s Garden, which provides information on many garden plants, as well as lists of vendors who supply them? The website also rates vendors based on the experiences of gardeners who subscribe to the website. It’s a very useful tool for determining whether a plant will grow well in your area. See the Dave’s Garden page about J. officinale here.

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