“Oh, look,” whispered the sweetest of voices on the slightest of breezes each night when I stepped outside. “We have created enchantment here.”
I thought I was alone, but the powdery scent of perfume had me thinking otherwise. The voice was quite feminine, I imagined, and absolutely southern — dripping with refined charm and long, slow vowels.
As the heady fragrance embraced me during these midwinter night’s dreams, I became convinced that Miss Blanche DuBois, of A Streetcar Named Desire, had decided to keep me company each time I stepped outside in the evening.
Unfortunately for Blanche, “enchantment” was not the word I would have used — especially on those nights when the flowery fragrance was thick, as if Blanche had used a heavy hand to spritz herself so her eau de odeur could be smelled and tasted.
With all due apologies to Tennessee Williams, my line would have read: “Oh, look. We have created stink here.”
One man’s scent, I suppose, is another man’s stench. Joe, along with many of my neighbors, enjoyed each evening’s “enchantment.” But not me — and because the smell didn’t exist during the day, I’d put it out of my mind and nose, which meant that each night’s walk was an olfactory assault.
Still, I had to discover the identity of the plant that was dolling itself up for a night on the town. None of my neighbors had gardenia or jasmine, plants whose fragrances also make me gag. And so, under cover of darkness, I sniffed random shrubs up and down the street.
Early one morning, before the sun had burned away the previous night’s aroma, Joe came into the house. “I think I found the plant,” he said. “It’s on the other side of our fence.”
I ran outside and strained my neck so that my nose could reach one of the powder puffs dangling from the tall shrubs on the other side of the fence. One inhale and I knew Joe was right.
Blanche DuBois was my neighbor.
Actually, the plant, appropriately named Dracaena fragrans or corn flower, had been planted years ago by our actual neighbor, Darin. He had planted a row of the shrubs using woody stem pieces from a single plant, just sticking them in the ground along the edge of his property.
He had marveled at the plant’s ability to so easily root — and I too was a bit awestruck. In time, the little cuttings had grown into towering plants, some 15’ to 20’ tall, with full heads of sword-like leaves and slender, pale brown trunks.
If Dracaena fragrans looks somewhat familiar, it should. In many parts of the country, especially in northern areas, it’s an indoor plant, usually grown in pots and placed in the corners of lobbies and waiting rooms. In such an environment, this African native rarely achieves the height that it does when planted outside in warmer climates.
It also hardly ever blooms — and that’s a good thing, or else every lobby and waiting room would smell like some old French Quarter boudoir.
Now that January is well under way, the flowers of Dracaena fragrans have faded — and so too has Blanche DuBois.
I imagine she’s probably off to other far away places, where she will inevitably depend on the kindness of strangers, and spray what she hopes will be a seductive scent for bees and unsuspecting gardeners.
I, for one, will no longer be an unsuspecting gardener. I’ll be ready for her when she returns here at year’s end. After all, my nose knows.