Yesterday morning was the first day of fall and when I stepped outside to feed Isabella and get the newspaper I was overcome with the intense fragrance of sweet olive (osmanthus fragrans). I have officially declared it as my favorite scent in the garden. I've only had sweet olive for two or three years now and I remember last year running around trying to pinpoint the origin of that heavy perfume. Many people associate the fragrance with New Orleans but I first remember it from Bellingrath Gardens. Michael and I visited there over ten years ago and the shrub was everywhere. Actually it only takes one plant to scent a fairly large garden. The shrub that I detected yesterday morning is about 50 feet away on the south side of the house and my back drive-way area was permeated with the exquisite aroma.
The amazing thing about the sweet olive is how tiny and inconspicuous the flowers are. They are borne in tiny clusters of tubular shaped flowers and appear in fall, winter and early spring. The plant originates from China, Japan, and the Himalayas. It is an evergreen shrub that generally grows anywhere from 6 to 12 feet in gardens but can get much larger in the wild. The glossy leaves are very attractive so it is interesting even when out of flower. It is also very easy to grow and not particular to any type of soil conditions. It is not super hardy, however, but our winters have been rather mild lately. Even if it is killed to the ground by a severe freeze, I've read that it can recover.
Sweet olive is not the only fragrant plant for the fall. My Angel's Trumpet (brugmansia suaveolens) really goes to town in September and starts blooming like gangbusters. My largest one is located in my vegetable garden area and towers about my clipped hedge and always gets ooohs and aaaahs from passersby who see it from the street. Sources dictate that this tropical show-off is only hardy to zone 8. I used to prune mine down and dig it up every fall and store it in the basement during the winter. A few years ago, I decided to take a chance with leaving it outside because I heard quite a number of folks who do that. I mulched it heavily and it survived! And I should note that this is planted in a raised bed on the north side of my house. So I think it is tougher than some might think. Of course, a severe prolonged freeze could do it in but like I've said, our winters have been mild for a long time now.
The fragrance of the Angel's Trumpet is very strong and sweet but is only noticeable (to me at least) in the early evening and night hours.