On a beautiful autumn day in October, some years ago, my husband and I visited the J.C. Raulston Arboretum in North Carolina and were immediately captivated by the most wonderful floral fragrance. We searched all over the Arboretum for the source. Finally, quite a distance from where we started, we found it, the sublimely fragrant shrub, Osmanthus fortunei ‘UNC’.
Earlier, on the recommendation of others, weighted with the promise of flowers with “overpowering” scent, I rushed right out to buy Osmanthus heterophyllus ‘Gulftide’ and O.h. ‘Goshiki’. How very disappointing. Sure they have fragrance, if you stick your nose into the flowers. But fragrance on-the-air, blossoms filling the garden with their delicious perfume? Not!
Don’t get me wrong. They are both nice plants. Gulftide has lovely glossy green foliage, and is very cold hardy; Goshiki has beautiful green and gold variegated foliage. As I said, nice garden plants. But on the fragrance front, the raison d’etre for my purchase, they fall far short.
Yet on the other hand, another variety, Osmanthus fragrans, delivers on fragrance but isn’t cold hardy here.
Which brings me back to Osmanthus x fortunei ‘UNC’, a hybrid of O. heterophyllus and O.fragrans, and for me the very best of both parents. This hardy beauty sports handsome, evergreen, holly-like foliage and in autumn produces abundant clusters of tiny white flowers that waft their exquisite perfume all about the garden. This year the flowers opened mid-September and now in mid-October are still releasing their intoxicating fragrance into the air. ( photo below). Can’t beat it. Aromatherapy in my own backyard.
These easy-care plants flourish in well-drained acid soil in sun or shade. (Mine are in shade.)
O. x f. ‘UNC’ is not widely available — and for a time was not available at all. I found and purchased my shrubs at Camellia Forest Nursery (See LINKS) which currently offers small, well-grown plants that should reach blooming size in one or two seasons. Grab them before they fly out the door.
You’ll thank me for this one.
OCTOBER 2013 UPDATE : My small plants bloomed! (Hope yours did too.)