Gardenia memories

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Gardenia jasminoides Florida

The scent of Gardenia flowers always makes me realise that Christmas is approaching. It is said that the sense of smell is the one most powerfully connected to memory, and indeed when I catch a whiff of the Gardenia at my front door, I am instantly transported back 40 years to our Christmas lunches at my aunt's place in Turramurra. A big Gardenia bush grew just outside her back door, and its perfume was inextricably linked with the excitement of the day. I seem to remember in those days that people often wore the blooms as a 'buttonhole' when going out at Christmastime.

Gardenia jasminoides (syn. G. florida, G. angusta), the most common species, is a frost-tender evergreen shrub hailing from south-east China, Taiwan and Japan. The thick waxy petals of the flower are usually formed into a kind of a double rosette, and can vary in size from petite in the prostrate cultivar 'Radicans' (ht 50cm) to large in the cultivar 'Grandiflora' (ht 2m). Medium-sized 'Florida' (ht 1m), the one I grow, is the most well known.

Potted Gardenia jasminoides Florida

Gardenia are very suited to our Sydney climate, as they enjoy humidity, and have a lush look which fits in well with the semi-tropical plants I grow these days. Unfortunately, the plants have suffered from over-exposure in recent years, being beloved by many landscapers to use as hedging. I have never had a lot of luck growing them in the garden, as I found they became lanky and lacked a good form, so now I grow them in large pots, where they flower for many months from late spring into autumn, most profusely in November and December.

Generally, they enjoy a lightly shaded position with neutral to slightly acid soil which is well drained and rich in humus. They do like adequate moisture and fertiliser in the growing season to give optimum blooms. I shape mine in early spring if they look rangy. They can become a bit woody and straggly with age and may need to be replaced every so often.

I once grew a more tree-like species, Gardenia thunbergia (ht 3m), which had very fragrant flowers like little pinwheels, but I found it shy to bloom and it took up too much space so it was eventually axed.

Happy Christmas to all my readers, and thank you for following my blogs this year. I am taking a break until mid-January, when I will be back with more gardening musings!