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Sweet Olive Everywhere

One of our released deck plants is quite happy in her new digs. Don't forget to scratch and sniff!

I have a keen sense of smell.  I am easily distracted by good (or foul) scents.  In fact I often think that I follow my nose around like a hound dog.

And… that’s a wonderful thing this time of year.

Right now, the deck door is open and the luscious scent of sweet olive is wafting in on a delightful breeze.

Since the scent of sweet olive (Osmanthus fragrans) is one of my favorite fragrances, I decided to revel in it.

I planned and strategically planted 4 sweet olive shrubs around the property so that my two adjacent gardens are perfumed when the shrubs blossom.

Two of these are retired deck plants.  I potted 1 gallon nursery plants into large terra-cotta pots and lived with them for several years.  When they became pot bound, I dug holes in the back garden near the decks and released them into the wild.  The largest of these is almost 10′ tall now.

Then I purchased an “improved” variety from my friend Maarten VanderGiessen’s wholesale nursery. I planted it in the front yard between my two houses.

This selection is called Nanjing Beauty Sweet Olive (Osmanthus fragrans ‘Fudingzhu’) and is reported to have more flowers, better fragrance and longer bloom time than the norm.  So far I can’t see a lot of difference. But I shouldn’t judge yet. Mine is a young plant barely 2 feet tall and just now coming into its own.  I will admit that this fall it has done an outstanding job of scenting the two front gardens.   If you want to form your own opinion, this selection is available at Almost Eden Nursery.

My orange flowered sweet olive glows in the autumn light.

After chancing upon an orange flowered sweet olive in an old garden many years ago, I just had to have one.  I searched until I finally scored the object of my desire at Woodlanders Nursery.  The orange sweet olive (Osmanthus fragrans ‘Aurantiacus’) is prized for use in perfumery.   A solvent extraction process is used to distill a very expensive Osmanthus absolute from the blossoms.  Orange sweet olives are reported to have a more desirable fragrance due to the presence of carotenes in the flowers.   Unfortunately the orange form blooms in autumn only.  Mine is now about 12′ tall and is in full glorious flower right now so I’ll forgive it for not repeating.

Sweet olives are evergreen and can become quite large if not challenged by extreme winters.  The white flowering forms bloom in autumn, during warm spells in the winter and then repeat in spring.

In my landscape drawings I often site sweet olive near high traffic entrances and adjacent to patios and decks where it is likely to stop unsuspecting passers-by in their tracks.  The individual flowers are tiny (less than 1/4″) but are arranged in larger clusters.

I recently learned that in China, osmanthus flowers are used to scent black or green teas.  They are also used to flavor jams, sweet cakes, dumplings, soups and liquor.

I’ve never eaten the flowers but they do emit a fruity scent that makes me want to bite into a perfectly ripe peach.   They are a yummy no calorie olfactory snack!


 

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