Plant Collector – Philadelphus

The exquisite simplicity of the fragrant philadelphus

The exquisite simplicity of the fragrant philadelphus

I went out to the garden looking for something Christmas-y but the recent rains haven’t helped. The perfect red dahlia did not quite cut the mustard for this column but my eye fell on the pristine, snow white flowers of the philadelphus. I think this one is P. coronarius, the most commonly grown species. The whole family is often referred to as mock orange blossom. Sweetly scented though this plant is, as one whose garden is at times awash with the genuine orange blossom scent, all I can say is that to label the philadelphus so was the work of either an optimist or a plant marketer.

Philadelphus only star when in flower. For the rest of the year, they are largely anonymous border shrubs but that is fine because gardens need some quiet fillers in order to highlight showier plants. While there are a few evergreen ones, they are generally deciduous. The simple blooms remain pristine white, not burning in the sun or turning brown with age.

We saw a large range of particularly showy philadelphus in early summer English gardens, many much larger flowers, semi doubles, doubles, even pink tones. We figured they are hugely more popular there because they are such an obliging plant in a wide variety of conditions including alkaline soils and hard winters. New Zealand gardeners tend not to be fans of twiggy, deciduous shrubs. Plants flower on the previous season’s new growth which means that it is better to prune and shape by taking out older, woody stems entirely rather than giving the plant a hair cut all over. However, these are well behaved shrubs which only need attention every few years.

Apparently they pick well. I may have to try combining them with my red dahlias for a Christmas themed vase.

First published in the Waikato Times and reproduced here with their permission.

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