Summer’s Most Fragrant Flower

Gardenia or Cape Jasmine is the highlight of summer flower fragrances.

Dwarf Gardenia flower cluster

Older planting of Dwarf Gardenia in the shade

There is no question in my mind that when I get near a gardenia in bloom the fragrance is almost overpowering. For some its very fragrant flowers are heavenly, but others immediately start sneezing. Called Cape Jasmine by many older folks, this has been a staple in Birmingham gardens for years. While they can take full sun, most I see around town are planted in light shade. They will grow big (I have seen one 6 ft. by 6ft.), and when in bloom can be covered with pure white flowers. While we are on the edge of their cold hardiness, it has been a long time since I have seen one injured from cold. While the old fashioned gardenia is still the show stopper for me (and some think the ones we get today in nurseries are August Beauty) there are some very nice smaller selections. Perhaps the one that has been in the nursery trade the longest is Dwarf Gardenia (radicans). I really like this plant, as it stays low and is more spreading than upright under the conditions of light shade, good drainage, and fertile soil. To me, it is sensational in bloom. Its only draw back is white flies, which love these plants and all gardenias. They are generally controlled by product named imidacloprid. Look for it in the ingredient list of drenching or granular insecticides but do not apply in bloom, as it has been report to hurt bees.
Several new dwarf selections have taken the market by storm. Kleim’s Hardy is very popular because of its 2 to 3 foot size and constant flowering with small 6 petal flowers and yellow stamens. It’s not really a favorite of mine. On the other hand Mystery is a beauty. They are easily kept at 3 feet tall with double flowers and constantly bloom. Southern Living has three in their plant collection: Jubilation which has that old fashioned look, but is a sporadic bloomer, Diamond Spire which is upright with daisy like flowers, and Scent Amazing which is dwarf and has lots of small flowers. So take your pick and enjoy the sweetest of summer fragrances.

John Floyd

John Floyd has been gardening--and learning about Birmingham area gardening--for more than 30 years. In addition to his day-to-day experience, John has degrees in horticulture from Auburn and Clemson Universities and was Editor-in-Chief of Southern Living.

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