Sultry as a summer evening and as intoxicating as an exotic perfume, the scent of gardenias is unforgettable. The blossoms are just as enticing, unfurling into velvety flowers in early evening's warmth and humidity. We've highlighted a few champion varieties and offered tips to make sure your gardenias look (and smell) their best.
DID YOU KNOW? Gardenias originated in the Orient but are named in honor of Dr. Alexander Garden, an 18th-century botanist and physician from Charleston, South Carolina.
Abundant selection makes it easy to find the right gardenia for your garden. Gardenias (Gardenia jasminoides) vary in height, leaf and flower size, bloom periods, and cold hardiness. Most have double flowers, though beautiful single forms do exist. 'Mystery', shown at left, is the largest variety. It grows upright, benefits from pruning, and can act as a hedge. 'August Beauty' and 'Veitchii' have long bloom periods, making them worthwhile additions to any garden.
The right sun, soil, and seeding will ensure that your gardenias reach their full potential. Ideally, plant gardenias where they will get morning sun and afternoon shade. Good air circulation is a must. Gardenias also prefer moist, acid soil that has good drainage and lots of organic matter, such as peat. When planting, set the root-ball about one inch higher than the surrounding soil for adequate drainage. Then, gently taper the soil up to the top of the exposed root-ball. Mulch plants with pine straw or chopped leaves.
Pests can be a problem if left untreated. Gardenias primarily appeal to whiteflies, scales, and mealybugs. Control outbreaks by applying a light horticultural oil, such as Sunspray Ultra-Fine. If left untreated, severe infestations of these sucking insects can lead to a sooty mold buildup. This black mold does not really harm the plant, but it does slow down photosynthesis.
DID YOU KNOW? Jazz singer Billie Holiday considered gardenias to be her signature flower and wore them in her hair whenever she performed.
Though they can be used as specimens or hedges, a benefit of keeping gardenias in pots is that you can move them around to better enjoy their perfume. 'August Beauty', shown here, blooms into the fall and nicely complements pink French hydrangeas. Let potted gardenias grow naturally or clip and train them as topiary standards. Ideal locations for gardenia container gardens include along pathways, at the corners of your house, or near windows, where their scent is drawn inside by summer breezes.
DID YOU KNOW? Radicans' gardenia's small leaves and size make it an ideal plant to train as a bonsai.
The gardenia's captivating scent makes its blooms ideal candidates for flower arrangements. All varieties are fragrant, though 'Mystery' claims the largest blossoms, some up to five inches across. To enjoy a gardenia's scent without a lot of fuss, cut a single flower and place it in a small jar of water on your kitchen windowsill. For the simple arrangement at left, combine gardenia blossoms, variegated hosta leaves, and fern fronds.