Christmas smells like Katjiepiering

Gardenia jasminoides / Katjiepiering Photo: Wikipedia

My favourite fragrance association with Christmas is a combination of gardenia flowers, pine needles and watermelon.  Mixed with the smell of seaweed from Stinkbaai and dekriet from the thatched roof of our holiday home at the southern tip of Africa, Cape Agulhas. How I wish I could bottle this fragrance to bring back memories of sunny holidays during the rainy Cape winters and send it to friends who emigrated to countries with white Christmases.

Gardenia jasminoides or Katjiepiering in Afrikaans, is also called Cape jasmine or Cape jessamine based on the earlier assumption that the plant originated in the Cape of Good Hope, South Africa.  It actually originated in Asia and as a tropical plant it thrives best in warm and humid environments.  The gardenia family (Rubiaceae) is a large cosmopolitan family with coffee, Coffea arabica as a member.

A true South African relative is Gardenia thunbergia – the White Gardenia, Forest Gardenia or Wild Gardenia from KwaZulu-Natal with beautiful Afrikaans names like Witkatjiepiering, Buffelsbal and Kannetjiesboom.  The decorative white fruits of this plant will make wonderful natural Christmas baubles.

The fruit of Gardenia thunbergia/ White Gardenia / Witkatjiepiering Photo: the floweringgarden.com

I was thinking about the origin of the Afrikaans name Katjiepiering which translates to “kitten saucer”. For those of you who allowed yourself to get carried away by the royal wedding this year, The Duchess of Cambridge (formerly known as Kate Middleton) was wearing a perfume called Illuminum White Gardenia Petals. Maybe that is why Prince William looked like a kitten who got his saucer of milk!

To create an aromatic Christmas arrangement for my home I’ve picked my favourite fynbos like geranium, buchu, snowbush and confettibush and added gardenia flowers to drift on water in a salad bowl.  You can also make a wreath with a circular oasis and add ribbons and a few Gardenia thunbergia  fruit for the festive effect. Always a good idea to have gardenia in any form to either keep your Prince close or invite one in…

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