Relax and Smell the Flowers!

Relax and Smell the Flowers!

by Vivian Williamson-Bryan

One advantage of living in a tropical paradise like St Thomas is that all of our waking hours are spent surrounded by beautiful landscapes and riots of color. Not for us the grey, smoggy skies of more northern latitudes. Brilliant blue with a hefty do se of puffy white clouds is more our speed. Our flowers are not the soft pinks of peonies and roses or the cool blues and lavenders of iris, hyacinth and lilac. Our flowers are bright, bright, bright! Oranges, reds, yellows, magenta…these are the col ors that cascade over every wall and out of every crevice. Being surrounded by all this natural beauty goes a long way towards making life more pleasant (kind of like a man who brings flowers to atone for whichever misdeed he’s guilty of – attempting to refocus attention on the pleasant instead of the unpleasant. (Yes, I realize the term “person” would be more p.c. but I’m exercising literary license.)).

One very unpleasant fact of life in St Thomas (it’s true – even though this is “America’s Paradise” we’re not quite perfect) is that the island is unfortunately plagued by horrendous traffic (too many cars for this tiny island with few choices of h ow to get from point a to point b, exacerbated by the constant roadwork that is carried on at a snail’s pace) that can reduce the most patient person to a near raging maniac. The only thing that prevents that final plunge over the edge to full-blown demen tia is being able to look out at the harbor glistening in the sunlight (the waterfront is the site of the worst jams), clear blue sky overhead, giant white cruise ships lined up like ducks in a shooting gallery, and appreciating the fact that it could be worse. It really does have a calming effect (coupled with a few deep breaths) – even confirmed cynics would have to admit it’s a big improvement over a commercial strip or big city canyons. And if the natural beauty palls (it does once in a while, belie ve it or not, but the circle generally comes around and you have a fresh appreciation for the island’s topography and setting) there’s always the bustling activity of a working waterfront to keep you amused.

Once out of the downtown area you no longer have the diversion of the harbor or the general hubbub of tourist and inter-island activity so to be entertained while imprisoned in your almost stationary car calls for a little more imagination and insight. T his is where our profusion of vibrantly hued flora comes into play. If you focus on the masses of hot pink bougainvillea against a wall, the fact that that wall surrounds boxlike, institutional structures becomes secondary. A huge stand of oleander wil l take your attention from the litter by the roadside (another unpleasant fact of life here — there are slobs who think nothing of flinging beer bottles and cans, fast food wrappers and other such detritus from their car windows). The prol ific hibiscus hides the not nearly as attractive galvanized sheeting or wire fence that sits behind it. Flowers are great at drawing the eye away from the unsightly to their freshness and beauty. 


Luckily, the Caribbean, with its moist, sunny climate (just like a greenhouse!) has the ideal conditions for growing a vast array of plant species. Flowers that are strictly potted houseplants (and well-heated houses, at that) in other, colder locales gr ow practically wild here. Orchids, poinsettias, ficus benjamina and philodendrons – all are as common as daisies or buttercups. Although many of the most popular plants are not indigenous to St Thomas (the bougainvillea was imported from Brazil in the 1700’s; the hibiscus is a Hawaiian native; the flamboyant tree that dots our hillsides with bright red color in the summer comes from Madagascar), they all thrive in this land of no snow and frost.

One would think that all that plant life would have St Thomas smelling something like a perfume factory. Amazingly, that’s not the case. Most of the plants seem to have invested all their energy in their dazzling show of color and didn’t save any for ol factory purposes. Hibiscus and Bougainvillea are sterile in the scent department. Plus they have lifespans that make roses seem like they have the lasting power of Methuselah. Cut either one of them and they’ll be dead as doornails within hours unless you refrigerate them. Even left on the bush a hibiscus blossom lives only from sunrise to sunset – a beautiful burst for just one day. Another flower lacking in nose appeal is the blue petrea – the Caribbean’s answer to the lilac – at least in look – it ‘s a real disappointment if you expect that wonderful lilac fragrance. And of course orchids are well known for their paucity of perfume (this is usually discovered at the time of the first corsage).

There are, of course, exceptions to this as there are exceptions to just about everything in life. The gorgeous oleander  is delicately fragrant (don’t let those good points fool you – i t’s probably one of the most poisonous plants around!) as is the frangipani with its spicy sweet scent (a popular perfume ingredient). And the jasmine family (another perfumer’s favorite ) has a number of odoriferous members. A truly splendid representative of this family is the night blooming jasmine, also known as “Lady of the Night,” an appropriate nickname considering its propensity for perfuming the night air for quite a considerabl e distance around it.

So, the next time you’re sitting stuck in traffic, take a look around you. You might not have quite as nice distractions as we in the Virgin Islands do but I’ll bet you can find something. Take some time to smell the flowers!