When I was younger, I lived in northern California. It was everything you don’t think of when you’re 12 and moving to California. There were no beaches, no surfer dudes, no tan women in bikinis sweating in the sun. It was all dead grass and cows. The area surrounding the base that we were stationed on was agricultural in nature, right at the base of the Sierra foothills. There were lots of cows (yes, I went cowtipping), and lots of lazy summer days spent playing in the river that ran behind my house.
My grandparents, my father’s parents, lived in Los Angeles at that time. They’ve both passed now, been over 10 years since they left us, but I couldn’t help remembering my grandmother today.
Or more accurately, her garden.
See, my grandparents lived on a little postage stamp lot in a house that had no air conditioning. The only time we could go visit was in the summer, so I remember being hot as all get out when we would go to visit. She had no room for a pool because she only had an “L” shaped yard that wrapped around her house. It was narrow, but meticulously kept. The grass was bordered on one side by the house and on the other by a raised garden.
In this garden were numerous gardenia bushes. It always seemed to me that there were hundreds, but I know that there weren’t room for that many. I do remember, however, that they were very big. In their raised brick garden, they were taller than my father. They were huge.
And the scent. Oh, Good Lord, the scent was intoxicating.
It gets so hot in L.A., and the heat would bake those blooms and the scent would fill the air. When we would go to bed at night, the windows would be open to try to catch any whisper of a breeze and I would fall asleep to the lullaby of the street outside and the scent of gardenias in my nose. It was so strong, you could taste it.
I have had a love affair with gardenias ever since.
I recently moved into my new place and I searched high and low for a gardenia bush to plant in my yard. The big box stores were already out when I finally had enough spare change to purchase one. I finally found one, by chance, at the Acme grocery store up the way.
I was like a kid in a candy store! I had finally found the one flower that would complete my garden. I had finally found the one plant that would bloom and make the yard smell sooooo good.
Unfortunately, gardenias are a bit temperamental. Let me put it this way: gardenias, when transplanted, can make a woman caught in the throes of labor look like a saint.
I pampered that dang plant. I watered it and used special acidic feed for it. I talked to it, called it beautiful, begged it to bloom some of the buds that were sitting ready on the bush.
And like a recalcitrant child, it dropped all of the buds like hot potatoes.
I know it did this just to spite me.
I checked every day for months to see if I had finally gotten a bloom. Just one bloom is all I wanted. The chance to bury my nose in those velvety petals and inhale that wonderful perfume.
I consulted websites, asked gardeners. I pulled back on the watering, stroked the leaves, was vigilant in pulling off the yellowed leaves.
Then, one day, as a last ditch effort, I poured coffee grounds on the damn thing.
The next day, this is what happened:
The lesson learned? I guess gardenias need caffeine to kick start their morning, too!