After my Indian wedding, once the elephant-led procession was over, and the vows completed around the sacred fire on a chilly December night in the desert… my new husband and I finally escaped into the hush of our room in a traditional Rajasthani haveli. Like any newlywed couple, having survived months of wedding planning, as well as an onslaught of family and friends from around the globe, we snuggled up and naturally…. we slept!
But for a few moments, as I lay on the carved wooden bedstead, enveloped in curtains of Arabian jasmine, each waxy, white, cup shaped flower perfuming the air with a honey-musk scent, I-WAS-IN-HEAVEN!
Of course this was the scene I’d always pictured (my daydreams involved a loving duet sung whilst gazing fervently into the eyes of my beloved… even though neither my husband nor I can sing a note in tune!) But apart from my Bollywood-fuelled expectations, the enchantment lay in the opulence of these exquisite flowers, laid on in such quantity for me and my husband, just this once in our lives.
So you can understand my delight today, after three years of trying to grow my own, I spotted this. A perfect, crinolined white bud! Arabian jasmine (Jasminum sambac) (Mogra or motiya in Hindi) is actually native to the humid climates of South and Southeast Asia. The wildly fragrant flowers, not surprisingly, are used to make perfume.
Here in India, the buds are harvested in early morning, strung into necklaces and then sold for ten rupees ($.15) each.
Here’s my favorite Mogra lady, always at the same traffic light, always ready with a smile and lovely, fragrant flowers to end a long, dusty day.
So what’s the secret to growing this amazing jasmine? Well, a tropical climate helps. Apart from that, watering is key. Only water the plant if a finger dipped into the soil reveals dryness. Otherwise, you’ll overwater and the buds will drop. The plant needs light but not direct sun or the leaves will burn.
Keep old wood cut back as Arabian Jasmine only flowers on new wood, and apply lots of homemade compost! (Mine has transformed my potted terrace garden!)
I won’t be stringing whole garlands anytime soon, but at least now I can enjoy the scent of perfumed nights long after the honeymoon ended!