Fall fragrance

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.


  1. Angels Trumpet will root readily from stem cuttings. You could always root a few in the fall/winter as a backup.

  2. You've made me want Sweet Olive! I'd heard of it just recently but didn't realize it was an Osmanthus.

    Have you ever grown Daphne? I have read about how wonderful it is, but have never smelled it. Apparently it is not easy to grow.

    I think my favorite garden scent is wild Crabapple blossoms. I can never find one in a nursery though, that smells as good as the ones at Noccalula Falls (in Gadsden).

  3. Hi Phillip,

    My sweet olive started blooming about a week ago, too - and I loved your lyrical tribute to its wonderful scent. You have to be pretty close to the Brugmansia so it's easy to tell where that scent is coming from, but the Osmanthus is more elusive.

    This is a scent I read about and then planted, so I don't have any memories of other gardens associated with it - Sweet Olive just makes me think of my own garden.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  4. I live in north central Texas and I have that same brugmansia and it's been in the ground for 8 years! I'm in zone 7. I was told to put it in a pot and bring it in for the winter, but that got real old, real quick. So one year I just stuck it in the ground. It's in a raised bed too, but by a south wall. It's loaded with bloom right now.

  5. I was so happy to see your article in Alabama Gardener!
    I have been a fan of your website since the beginning - even have it bookmarked at work so that if I ever have a moment to myself, I can check out your updates.
    My husband, Steve and I live in Norfolk, VA (since 2000) in a 1938 cape cod on a virgin lot that is bordered on 3 sides with Tidal water - Steve is a NC boy and has always gardened - but this has been my first experience - what joy to discover gardening delights! We have slowly added roses and perennials (many from your recommendations)and my favorite hydrangeas - Steve's passion is his vegetable garden -
    And now I can look forward to the blog! Bravo!

  6. Phillip, Thanks for your visit to my site. I find it interesting what grows in the other parts of the country and what people like. I grew the Angel's Trumpet for the first time this year. It did well in a pot but the heat got to it and it lost most of its leaves. It is starting to grow again. Maybe I should plant it in the bed along the south side of the house. I have glads and cannas that come back year after year so maybe it would also. I saved seed if that doesn't work. Not sure if sweet olive would grow here or not. Never seen one in a nursery. Thanks for sharing. Cliff

  7. Phillip, hope you don't mind I added you as a link on my site. Cliff

  8. Thanks for the comments!

    Rurality - I do have a daphne that I bought on a whim last year at Home Depot. It is doing great and it is an area that has dry shade - it is about the only plant that does well there.

    Kristan - Thank you so much!

    Cliff, thanks for the link - I certainly don't mind at all. See Christopher's comment about rooting angel trumpets. I've heard from others that it is very easy to do.

  9. I wanted to ask you what those gorgeous flowers are cascading over the structure in the photo on your webpage?


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