Ewen's garden

A collection of columns, paintings and photographs about gardening on an offshore island in New Zealand.

Friday, March 11, 2005


Well, I know mine certainly does at this time of year with hay fever. There do seem to be many plants with delicious scents about at the moment. Last column I wrote about Magnolia grandiflora, and made mention of Michelia, closely related to the magnolias, which have strong perfume and beautiful flowers. These trees and shrubs, of a genus of some 45 species are from South East Asia. The Genus is named for the Italian botanist Pietro Antonio Micheli. Species commonly grown in New Zealand are M. doltsopa and M. figo flowering in the spring and early summer and share a strong scent. The former grows to a height of six metres, while the latter only grows to about three metres.

Plants with perfume blooming at the moment include the cluster wax vine Stephanotis floribunda, belonging to a genus of 15 species from countries as far afield as Peru, Cuba, Malaya, South China and Madagascar, the last being the native home of S. floribunda. My specimen is growing in a pot and twining its way along the rail of the deck. The small white and highly fragrant flowers are held in clusters as their common name suggests. It is these flowers that are highly prised as florist flowers, particularly for wedding bouquets. This vine needs a sheltered spot preferably in partial shade and somewhere you can enjoy its scent.

In a wee pot at the base of my stephanotis is a wax flower Hoya carnosa. From a genus of 200 species, H. carnosa is a native of Australia. It has a delicate scent arising from its waxy flowers of pinkish colour held in tight clusters. The vine likes to be pot bound and will only flower from the same spur each season, so you must careful not to knock these off if shifting it at all.

Adjacent to both of these are yet two more scented plants, gardenia Gardenia augusta ‘Professor Pucci’ with small double white flowers and a heavy scent. Next door is frangipani Plumairia acutifolia its clusters of star shaped creamy flowers. Both these plants are warm climate plants and in particular the frangipani needs shelter and the help of a sunny wall behind, particularly important through the winter, to help bring on the flowers.

Also out at the moment are the naked ladies or belladonna Amaryllis belladonna (not to be confused with deadly night shade Atropa belladonna, the poison of medieval times). There appears also to be some confusion as to the botanical name of the belladonna lily even now, as some say it is now called Brunsvigia rosea, however, I shall call it Amaryllis belladonna. This hardy bulb throws up purple stems at this time of year, topped with pale pink and powerfully scented blooms. The flowers appear before the leaves and are good for picking, but I think the perfume would be rather over powering if brought indoors. These bulbs once planted will naturalise themselves easily with no further input from the grower, except maybe to take away the dead leaves at the end of winter.

I hope everyone enjoys their autumn and the hay fever isn’t too severe. I think autumn would have to be my favourite time of the year, still warm, settled weather and yet the ground is dry and warm under foot. Will need to start thinking about where plants could be planted after the rain comes.


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