Many years ago, in LA, I wrote down the phrase ‘scent of oleander’. But oleanders have no scent and now I don’t know if it was just an example of poetic nonsense or an actual misunderstanding that caused me to write that. I didn’t know then what a gardenia was but perhaps they were growing, and flowering, on those warm Hollywood nights as I walked to the all night supermarket to buy cantaloupes. Curiously, when I did learn about gardenias, the word, the name, became associated in my mind with ‘oleander’ and I am still likely to confuse one with the other. Sometimes the word ‘gardenia’ disappears altogether and when, as lately, their white, opulently scented flowers proliferate, I find myself silently saying ‘scent of oleander’. I know it isn’t right, and I would never call oleanders – also flowering here now – gardenias. For the last two weeks, then, the word ‘gardenia’ has been absent from my mind and, every time I have looked at, or smelt, the white flowers I have thought ‘oleander’. This time I decided not to have recourse to dictionaries or manuals, I would not ask anyone for the name, I would wait until it returned. It came back yesterday, when I saw the word used in something I was reading: ‘gardenia’. And now I wonder if, perhaps, its return will also mean an end to that four-decade-long confusion?

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  1. Some oleanders do have a scent – and a lovely one too, a bit like vanilla with a hint of lemon. I don’t know why some are fragrant and others not.
    I think the blossoms with a scent were white but can’t be sure. I don’t see as many oleanders these days as people are digging them out, perhaps because they can become weeds.

  2. me

    I stayed in a place in Labuanbajo once called the Gardena – that confused me further – I was always trying to insert an ‘i’ into the name.

  3. Penelope

    A confusing flower, indeed. You’ve just sent me into my own archives to a scene where the character (okay, the author) is thinking of a gardenia, but can only come up with the name ‘clementine’. Later he remembers the word, but ‘clementine’ has fastened itself to the flower.

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