Posts Tagged ‘sweet olive’

Up Close and Personal

From my deck I look into the top of my 12' sweet olive. The fragrance is intoxicating!

Right now the air all around my place is infused with the luscious scent of sweet olive.

Most of this wonderful fragrance emits from the lusty 12 footer that grows beside my deck.

According to my husband Richard I brought this sweet olive home in the early 1990’s.

I knew that the flower scent would waft through the air for a long distance but I didn’t want to take a chance on missing it.  So I kept the sweet olive up close and personal by using it as a deck plant.   It lived in a terra cotta pot on my deck for over a decade and was invited to every deck party and cookout!

Right now my longtime companion sweet olive is living in a construction zone beside the deck.

Eventually it became pot bound and needed to be released into the wild.  So I planted it beside the deck of the new house we had just purchased next door.

It has been there for the past 12 years.  It has grown large enough that we had to prune it off the stairs several times.

For the past year we have been planning a deck renovation.   I was afraid the osmanthus would have to be severely pruned.   One of our deck expansion plans would have even required removal.  We discarded that plan and decided to reroute the stairs to give the sweet olive more room.

It has rewarded us this fall with a bountiful crop of blossoms.  We’ve thoroughly enjoyed them while sitting out on our new deck.

We shared a deck with that plant for over 10 years.   Now it has grown up into our deck space and we are co-habiting again.

This time the roots are in real dirt and we’re lounging on our deck in the osmanthus canopy.


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!


Sweet Olive

To fully appreciate sweet olive, a scratch and sniff option will need to be added to this page.

I am enamored of wildflowers.

I think gardeners should use more native plants.

But… I’m not a purist.  For me, scent trumps intent.

I am a sniffer.  I follow my nose around like a hound dog.   I am so obsessed with fragrant flowers that I once created a “Fragrance Garden”.

At my place this time of year, when I walk outside (or even past an open window) and take a deep breath, my olfactory nerves experience a powerful  and pleasant jolt.

The sweet olive fragrance wafts in and asserts itself.  Suddenly sweet olive is my favorite plant ever.

Sweet Olive, tea olive or fragrant olive (Osmanthus fragrans) is no wild flower or native plant.  It hails from Asia and is hardy in the U.S. as far north as zone 7b.

Some think this large evergreen shrub resembles a holly.  It is actually a member of the Olive Family.    In old gardens in Natchez, sweet olive commonly reaches 15′ to 20′.  It is often planted near banana shrub (Michelia figo) so that in spring the two can bloom in harmony.

The powerful flowers are diminutive – barely 1/8″ across.  They would be easy to miss if they did not emit a wonderful fruity fragrance.  The scent is one of my favorite signs of autumn.  However, it will repeat during warm spells in winter and again in spring.

My husband Richard thinks that they smell like a perfectly ripe peach.  I lean toward mango but that’s not quite it either.  I’ve heard it described as being apricot like.

Regardless of the flavor perceived, the scent is prized throughout the world.  In China the flowers are used to make a fragrant tea.  Flowers of the unusual orange form are distilled to make an expensive essential oil that is used in perfumery.

It’s a delightful pervasive fragrance that I follow around my garden this time of year.  The perfume drifts on the wind and I am bathed in it.


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