Sweet Box

50325
Foliage of sweet box outdoes flowers.

While bloom cycles of most plants are accelerated by the unusually warm winter, sweet box, Sarcococca ruscifolia, seems to be blooming a bit late. It should have bloomed sometime in winter, and finished a month ago. The tiny pale greenish white flowers are certainly nothing to look at, but they produce a remarkably rich fragrance that seems like it would be delicious with coffee.

The foliage is very glossy and dark green, like that of English holly, but the leaves are small and lack spines. Red berries sometimes develop, but are only abundant enough to be notably colorful on plants that are distressed. Sweet box may take a few years to get established and grow to only about three feet high and wide, although it can slowly get a bit larger.

Since it is naturally an understory plant, sweet box prefers at least a bit of shade. Harsh exposure fades foliage. Because of its tolerance of partial shade, as well as its low and dense growth, sweet box is ideal for obscuring foundations. After the first few years, it does not need too much water. It gets established more efficiently in rich soil.

Good Looks Are Not Everything

00311
Less color can mean more fragrance.

More flowers bloom as winter becomes early spring than at any other time of year. For many flowers, bloom is significantly accelerated this year because winter was so very warm. Flowering cherry, purple leaf plum and most of the stone fruit trees (such as almond, cherry, apricot, nectarine, peach, plum, prune and all their various hybrids) have already bloomed.

Color is what gets noticed first. After all, that is what all the flashy colors are intended for, to get the attention of pollinators. Yet, there is more to the indirect mating strategies of flowers than color. Because flowers lack the mobility to pollinate each other, they do what they must to attract others to disperse their pollen for them. Some use fragrance.

Generally, flowers prefer one tactic or the other. This is why the most colorful flowers lack fragrance, and the most fragrant lack color. Gardenia (which is not easy to grow locally), star jasmine, honeysuckle, Pittosporum tobira, Pittosporum undulatum and night blooming jasmine are not exactly colorful while blooming. The powerfully fragrant flowers of sweet osmanthus and sweet box barely get noticed.

Pink jasmine and mock orange (Philadelphus spp.) are flashier, only because their blooms are so profuse. Southern magnolia has spectacularly big flowers, but they are mostly obscured by dense foliage high above view. Cereus cactus and moon flower are likewise spectacular, but bloom at night to attract nocturnal moths for pollination.

Only a few flowers are both colorful and fragrant. Lilac and wisteria are among the more familiar. Both bloom early in spring, with a similar color range of lavender, blue, pink and white. Lilac is shrubby. Wisteria is an aggressive vine. ‘Charles Grimaldi’ angel’s trumpet is a big shrubby perennial that blooms rich yellow, but may only be fragrant at sundown.

Freesia, hyacinth, lily and bearded iris are flashy and fragrant flowers grown from bulbs, although hyacinth and most lilies rarely bloom a second year, and many lilies and bearded iris lack fragrance. Sweet alyssum is a mildly fragrant annual that blooms white, pink or lavender.

Winter Daphne

00311
Simple daphne flowers produce complex fragrance.

While winter weather is still cool and damp, winter daphne, Daphne odora, provides an alluringly fresh fragrance of spring. It is easy to dismiss the abundant but rather small domed trusses of tiny pastel pink flowers as the source of their formidable fragrance. Like so many fragrant blooms, daphne bloom is visually demure. Nevertheless, blooming stems are delightful with other cut flowers.

‘Aureomarginata’ is the most popular cultivar of daphne, and is the only cultivar available in many regions. The handsomely glossy evergreen foliage is variegated with yellowy white or light yellow margins. Mature plants get about two feet tall and about twice as wide, with a delightfully tame hemispherical form. They may get slightly taller with slightly less refined form where partially shaded.

Daphne prefers rich and loose soil, and with sufficient organic matter, will tolerate rather sandy soil. Partial shade might inhibit bloom somewhat, but is otherwise not a problem. Proper placement is important. Established daphne recover slowly from transplant. It is also important to be aware that even the healthiest of plants may live for only five years, and rarely live for more than ten years.

Gardenia

40917It seems that everyone who has ever experienced the seductive yet powerful fragrance of gardenia, Gardenia jasminoides, wants to grow it, but very few actually can. Gardenias like warmth, but prefer more humidity than they get here, which is why they seem to be happier in partial shade, in atriums, or in urns that can be moved out of harsh exposure during summer. In such sheltered spots, aphid, scale and sometimes whitefly can be problematic.

Gardenias want their own space, where their roots will not be bothered by excavation or roots of more aggressive plants. They do not even want annuals around them, because annuals need such regular cultivation. Docile ground cover plants or simple mulch is best. Gardenias like rich soil and acid fertilizer or fish emulsion to be applied regularly as long as the weather is warm.

The creamy white flowers that fade to French vanilla can seem mundane relative to their alluring fragrance and handsomely glossy foliage. The largest flowers rarely get to three inches wide. ‘Mystery’, which can slowly get four feet tall, is the most familiar cultivar, even though it does not bloom so much after spring. ‘Veitchii’, which can eventually get three feet tall and twice as wide, has small inch-wide flowers, but is still blooming. Modern cultivars bloom just as late, but with larger flowers.

Star Jasmine

90619There is some debate about the origin of the common name of Confederate jasmine. Some attribute it to its popularity in the former Confederate States of America. Others believe it originated in the Malay Confederacy, much closer to its native range. That is irrelevant here, where we know this popular vine with very fragrant flowers simply as star jasmine, Trachelospermum jasminoides.

One might think that it is too common, but there are reasons for that. The dark green foliage is so delightfully glossy all year. As appealing as it is alone, it is even better as a contrasting backdrop for the small but strikingly white star shaped flowers that bloom in profusion about now, and continue to bloom sporadically for much of the rest of the year. The lavish fragrance is totally awesome!

The twining vines climb luxuriantly to about the height of first floor eaves. They can climb much higher, but higher growth takes a while to get as billowy as lower growth. However, it is more often grown as a shrubby ground cover, only about two feet deep. The simple leaves are two to three inches long, and one to one and a half inches wide. The clustered flowers are about an inch wide.

The Other Rhodies

P90504KThere are countless species and cultivars of rhododendrons. Some have been in cultivation for centuries. Their big bold blooms are spectacular against a backdrop of their dark evergreen foliage. They prefer shelters spots, and some are happy to bloom in places that are too cool and too shaded for other flowers to bloom so well. They are so impressive that no one notices that they lack fragrance.

There is certainly a lot of variety among rhododendrons. Some are low mounding shrubs, while other can grow as small trees with open branch structure. Flowers can be white, pink, red, purple, blue or maybe even yellow or orange. Most flowers have some sort of pattern within the main color, but some are solid colors. Nonetheless, regardless of all the variety, we think that we can recognize a rhododendron when we see one.

Then there is Rhododendron occidentale, the Western azalea. The flowers are sort of recognizable as either big azalea flowers or lean rhododendron flowers, but are quite distinct from what we think of as familiar rhododendron flowers. The color range is very different too, with more white, marked with yellow, pink or orange. Even more surprising is that the bloom is quite sweetly fragrant!

Foliage is also very different from what is expected from a rhododendron. Not only is it deciduous, but if well exposed, it can actually develop soft yellow, orange or brownish red color in autumn. Individual leaves are rather narrow and papery.

We have only a few Rhododendron occidentale at work. They are not as tolerant of the partial shade from the redwoods as the more familiar rhododendrons are. However, they do happen to be blooming exceptionally well this year, while the bloom of the more familiar rhododendrons is less impressive than it has been in many years.

Charles Grimaldi Brugmansia (not a bio)

P90406KKWhen spelled like that, the whole thing looks like someone’s long name. ‘Charles Grimaldi’ really is someone’s name, and the particular cultivar of brugmansia happens to be named after him. Because no one knows who the parents of this hybrid cultivar are, the species name is omitted. It is therefore described by just the genus name followed by the cultivar name, as Brugmansia ‘Charles Grimaldi’; or simply ‘Charles Grimaldi brugmansia’.

After all that, some of us know it, as well as all other cultivars, even more simply as ‘angel’s trumpet’. They are more likely to be distinguished by floral color and form than by cultivar name. For example, Brugmansia ‘Charles Grimaldi’ might be described as a single yellow angel’s trumpet. There is also a single white, a double white, a single pink, a single pink with variegated foliage, and so on. Most are fragrant at least to some degree.

This particular specimen was not planned. As I mentioned in my ‘Six on Saturday’ posts earlier today, my colleague, Brent Green, planted it out in the back garden as a wimpy #1 (1 gallon) specimen many years ago. It grew like a weed and displaced a few other perennials that were too close to it. Brent coppiced it to the ground annually for a few years. It grew back and bloomed spectacularly and very fragrantly through each summer.

A few years ago, rather than coppice it back to the ground, Brent had me pollard it on a few tall trunks. Rather than regenerate as a big fluffy and obtrusive shrub that occupied too much of the limited space, it was able to spread out up and above the garden, while the tall and lanky trunks were pruned bare. The abundant and very fragrant flowers naturally hang downward from the upper growth.

Another Bad Picture

P90330KKThis is why one should not ask someone else who is very vain to take a picture of something important. The vain only take good selfies. Others subjects are too unimportant to them to bother getting a good picture of.

Fortunately, I did not ask for this picture. Brent, my colleague in Southern California, sent it to me with all those other pictures that I shared this morning, and the rest of the pictures that I intend to share next Saturday. I think he wanted to show off his magnolia. I do not remember what cultivar it is, or even what species. I though there was a Magnolia soulangeana in this spot, but these flowers do not look right for that.

I think this picture shows off the plumerias better. Brent probably did not think of that because he does not understand how impressive these specimens are to those of who can not grow them, even while these specimens are bare. I would like to grow some here, but it gets a bit too cool for them in winter. They are very sensitive to even mild frost.

Some of us know plumeria as frangipani. There are quite a few different cultivars that are indistinguishable while bare in this picture. Some stay quite small. My favorite white flowered cultivar is very tall but lanky, with only a few branches. The biggest specimen is the most common, with large trusses of small but very fragrant white flowers with yellow centers. Most bloom with a few colors swirled together. A few are more uniform hues of light pink, bright pink, red, pastel orange and buttery yellow.

I have pruned these specimens a few times. The pruning debris gets plugged as cuttings of various sizes. They grow into copies of the originals that get used in landscapes that Brent designs.

Brent’s other pictures, as well as a brief explanation of the severity of his extreme vanity, can be found at: https://tonytomeo.com/2019/03/30/six-on-saturday-vanity/ and https://tonytomeo.com/2019/03/30/six-on-saturday-vanity-ii/ .

Honeysuckle

P80526K

This is no ordinary honeysuckle. It is quite less than ordinary. It is not available in local nurseries. No one here wants it. Although it might be available from nurseries that provide native plants within the native range of this honeysuckle, most of those who find it in their garden probably do not want it there. After all, there are plenty of more desirable honeysuckles to grow. Some have more fragrant bloom. Some have more colorful bloom.

As you can see, this honeysuckle is not very impressive. It is about as shrubby as it is vining, and does not get very big. The small white flowers lack fragrance, and are not very abundant.

What I like about this honeysuckle is that it came all the way from Oklahoma. ( https://tonytomeo.wordpress.com/2017/11/19/oklahoma/ ) It is native there. I do not remember what honeysuckle it is at the moment. I brought it back with all sorts of seed and a few native plants that I obtained while there, including Arkansas yucca, Eastern red cedar and prickly pear. I can still remember sorting and packing some of the ‘specimens’ at a table outside a coffee shoppe on the bank of the Oklahoma River in downtown Oklahoma city, in Oklahoma County, in . . . Oklahoma.

When I grew rhododendrons, I knew people who bragged about rare cultivars that they and only a few of their friends and colleagues had obtained. Most were very pretty, with impressive bloom and bright color. Some were not so appealing; but no one wanted to say so. Sometimes, it seemed that the rarity of a cultivar was more important than any actual attributes.

I can remember many rare cultivars of rhododendron.

However, I know of none as rare as my honeysuckle from Oklahoma. I have the only one.

Deciduous Rhododendrons

P80509They are not a myth. They are quite real. So are the related and similar deciduous azaleas. There are certainly not as popular or as diverse as the familiar evergreen cultivars, but they have their place.

Like the popular evergreen cultivars, deciduous rhododendrons and azaleas have been extensively bred so that they are more spectacular than their ancestors in the wild. They lack the purples and blues of the evergreens, but they compensate with bright oranges and yellows that are uncommon among the evergreen cultivars, as well as reds, pinks and whites. Some of their colors are bright and fiery, while some are more relaxed. Compared to evergreen rhododendrons, the flowers of the deciduous rhododendrons are smaller, thinner, and suspended in smaller trusses. However, these smaller trusses are often significantly more abundant, and are flashier as they bloom before new foliage develops in spring.

Deciduous rhododendrons and azaleas are not grown for the foliar color in autumn, but where autumn weather is cold enough, their foliage can color somewhat well. It is mostly clear yellow, but can sometimes turn orange before falling away cleanly, leaving neatly bare stems through winter.

What deciduous rhododendrons and azaleas excel at that their evergreen counterparts can not compete with is their fragrance. Many are moderately fragrant. Some are VERY fragrant. It is rare that such showy flowers are also so fragrant. (Most flowers rely on one technique or another to attract pollinators.)

Now that the evergreen rhododendrons are blooming, our few deciduous rhododendrons are just about finishing. Visitors often ask about the fragrance, since they do not expect fragrance from rhododendron or azalea flowers, even though they can see little else blooming in same area. These flowers are so popular that we would like to plant more near windows of meeting rooms.P80509+(The article from my weekly gardening column that is typically posted on Thursday was posted yesterday, which is why this article, which is more appropriate for Wednesday is posted today.)