Summer scent of jasmine

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Jasminum odoratissimum

A profusion of dainty, golden flowers on a fence in my garden at the moment reminded me of my fondness for jasmine. This one is called Jasminum odoratissimum (ht 2-2.5 m), which might lead one to expect it to be the most fragrant of all jasmines, but though it has a pretty scent, I wouldn't say it is the strongest of all in the genus. It is an uncommon species, however, and I enjoy its glossy evergreen leaves and vibrant flowers: it grows nearby a robust specimen of Duranta 'Sheena's Gold', echoing the hue of its bright foliage. Jasminum odoratissimum comes from Madeira and the Canary Islands.

Jasminum laurifolium var. laurifolium, often called J. nitidum

Jasmines are to be recommended for bringing fragrance into the garden in the warmer months. They belong to the Oleaceae family of plants and there are more than 200 species of them, native mainly to tropical and warm temperate regions of the world (particularly South and South-East Asia), thus they are quite well suited to our Sydney climate and a number of them thrive here. They have either a climbing or shrubby habit, though some - such as Jasminum odoratissimum - can grow as either, as does another of my favourite jasmines - Jasminum laurifolium var. laurifolium (ht to 1.2-2m or more) - more usually known by its synonym Jasminum nitidum - from Papua New Guinea. It has flushes of fragrant, clear white blooms that open from purplish buds and have many finely cut petals that are often tinted red-purple on the outside. The flowers remind me of little pinwheels. The glossy leaves are also very attractive.

Jasminum sambac

Another useful jasmine for Sydney is Jasminum sambac, which has creamy white petals and rounded leaves on an evergreen spreading vine or shrub to 1.5-3 m, and it is also in bloom for a long period. It is sometimes known as Arabian jasmine though it actually hails from tropical Asia. There is a double form, called 'Grand Duke of Tuscany', which looks like a miniature Gardenia. Evergreen Jasminum officinale (common jasmine or the poet's jasmine), with its crisp white flowers and dainty leaflets, is very long blooming in Sydney's climate: almost all year round in warmer suburbs. It can be clipped to form a 1-1.5 m shrub or allowed to climb on a trellis or pergola. It is native to West China, North Iran, Caucasus, Afghanistan and the Himalayas.

Jasminum polyanthum

Probably the most intensely fragrant of all the jasmines is Jasminum polyanthum (ht to 6 m, from China), which grows all too easily in our climate and can take over large areas of the garden in a very short time. I love inhaling the perfume of these blooms in late winter and early spring, as it reminds me of the huge bower that grew over the back verandah of my childhood home. I took a layered stem in a pot with me when I left home, which struggled to grow on a window ledge for two years, then was unleashed into the garden of a shared house I lived in for two years in Glebe, where flung itself in all directions and took over the entire plot. Wiser now, I don't actually grow it in my own garden (and wouldn't recommend that anyone else does, either) but still enjoy it when I walk past billowing plants of it on fences in my suburb. Another species I would warn against growing is the so-called primrose jasmine (Jasminum mesnyi, ht to 3 m, also from China), which flowers in late winter and early spring and can form a huge, caney thicket over time.

All jasmines need a sunny spot in fertile, well-drained soil. They can be pruned back after flowering, or at other times to shape those grown as shrubs. The best way to propagate them is by cuttings taken in autumn or spring. Jasmine flowers are important in many Asian cultures, where they are used in religious ceremonies, worn as a hair decoration or in a garland, and cultivated to make tea, syrup, oil, perfume and incense.

Some unrelated plants with strongly fragrant flowers are also called jasmine. Star jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides) is an evergreen vine in the Apocynaceae or dogbane family, as is Chilean jasmine (Mandevilla laxa). Bright yellow Carolina jasmine (Gelsemium sempervirens) is in the Loganiaceae family of plants.