Summertime’s flower: Gardenia

Summer is here for certain. I know not because of my calendar, but because my gardenia hedge is blooming.

gardenia bloom

I planted the hedge in 2005 from very small plants. They’re now about 6 feet tall and wide, getting morning sun beneath large oak trees. I mulch them with shredded leaves in the fall, and lay down a light feeding of slow-release organic source of nitrogen (like blood meal) in the spring. Cutting back the spent blooms in July often yields another flush of blooms in August or September. Other than that, I don’t do much to tend them.

My soil is naturally acidic, so I don’t have to adjust the pH. I’ve never seen the gardenias bothered by pests or diseases, although I know it’s possible for them to be affected by a variety of fungal diseases and problems of a cosmetic nature. The worst that’s happened to mine so far is the annual shedding of older leaves–they turn solid yellow and drop, making way for fresh green growth. I rake them up and compost them.

As evergreen hedges go, it’s hard to beat this one. If you can grow gardenias (Zones 7 and warmer), there’s no excuse not to.

I wish you could smell them. Heavenly.


Learn more about growing gardenias:

Grow Write Guild #7: Write about a plant currently blooming

Write about one plant that is currently in bloom.

One of my favorite plants in the world is blooming now: the gardenia.

gardenia flowers

When I walk into my garden, I smell them before I see them. Their scent is rich, redolent, sweet, but not overbearing. It invites me to take long, deep breaths, savoring the smell as I grow calmer and more relaxed. The flowers do not smell anything like a gardenia candle from a home store, or a gardenia soap or hand lotion; I don’t know if it’s possible to authentically replicate the scent of the flowers in the garden without somehow destroying that unexpected lightness that makes the scent so alluring.

My gardenia hedge started out in 2005 as tiny things in 8-inch pots, as I recall. My sister, knowing of my keen interest in gardening and my keen lack of disposable cash given the young and expensive child in the house (didn’t those shoes fit last week?) and another on the way, told me: I have got a plant source for you. It’s a wholesale nursery, see, and they’re out in the absolute middle of nowhere. It’s two counties away. They don’t have a website and you can try calling them, but no one answers the phone and their answering machine is completely unhelpful. They won’t call you back. Nothing they have is labeled, so you’d better know what that plant you’re looking for looks like. But they’re cheap!

It should be taken as a sign of my desperation that this seemed to me to be a worthwhile, even promising, venture. I drove an hour out into the countryside using vague directions provided by a friend of my sister’s (it is seldom advisable to embark on a journey for which your directions instruct you to turn left at the big rock). As promised, none of the plants were labeled. There were no helpful staff. I bought six gardenias and spent a whopping $18.

beginning gardenia bed apr 05

I did, however, plant them in $100 holes (give or take $90). I had prepared a bed 10 feet wide and about 50 feet long. I tested the soil, amended it accordingly, dug in loads of leaf mold and homemade compost, all before I went shopping (this has never happened since). I planted the little shrubs about 8 feet on center, watered, and mulched generously.

They took off like beagles on the scent of a rabbit. I recall getting flowers the next year, the buds so heavy they bent their branches to the ground like the ball on Charlie Brown’s real wooden Christmas tree.

The hedge is now about 6 feet high, and even though the site is in deep shade for most of the afternoon (and light shade in the morning), the plants have filled in so that there are no gaps between them. They provide a beautiful, rich lime-green wall all year round. And every June (and again in August if I am lucky), I discover new blossoms each day. Their petals are like heavy silk satin; the blooms are the size of the palm of my hand. I cut fistfuls of them to bring inside; their perfume fills the house.