Summer is so full of wonderful fragrances – it is difficult to pick a favourite. What would a garden be without roses and what can compare with the delight of picking a bunch of sweet peas? Then there is the aroma and inevitable green fingers that comes from pinching the sideshoots from the tomatoes and soon there will be the heady perfume from the fleeting display of philadelphus. I would hate to be without any of them. But perhaps, just possibly, my favourite summer fragrance is that of the common jasmine; Jasminum officinale.
With its small, starry flowers and heady scent it is not surprising that this plant has been cultivated for centuries (there are records of it being grown in western Europe as early as the 1500s) and although it is thought to be native to Central Asia the precise location is unclear. It is a hardy, twining climber with bright green, feather-shaped leaves and small clusters of white flowers about 1cm across with five petals and a long flower tube typical of moth-pollinated flowers. The fact that the fragrance is strongest at dusk also suggests that moths are the encouraged pollinators. You do not have to wait till the dark to enjoy jasmine though and the flowers are fragrant all day too.
The reason I love this plant so much is that, as a child, the house we lived in had huge jasmines growing up the drainpipes and tumbling down in great drapes which scented the air in summer. Just a whiff takes me back to those days of playing in the fields around the house and climbing trees.
The essential oil (jasmine absolute) is known as the king of oils and is widely used in aromatherapy and is often considered an aphrodisiac (but then what isn’t).
This is just one of many jasmines and they vary from hardy shrubs, with yellow flowers, to tender climbers but I do not think that any of them smell better than this hardy species. If the plant has a fault it is that it flowers best in a sunny, warm spot and that it is a vigorous climber, easily reaching 5m high and wide. It flowers on short shoots that grow on the previous year’s wood so it can be difficult to control in a small space AND get lots of flowers so you need to make sure it has enough room to grow.
There are a few options in addition to the usual species including a not-very-good variegated form. The best for general garden use is probably ‘Fiona Sunrise’ which is a brilliant garden plant on account of the bright yellow leaves which add a touch of brightness to any garden. Unfortunately it means that the flowers do not show up as well as they do on the green-leaved plant but the smell is just as good.
So all these have white flowers. There is a lovely hybrid of this jasmine and the pink J. beesianum called J. x stephanense. This is a beautiful plant with gorgeous, soft pink flowers that are sweetly scented. It has inherited the best characters of both its parents. Jasminum beesianum itself is best avoided. Although you will often see it listed as an easy climber with fragrant, deep pink flowers this is bunkum. The flowers are deep pink but they are tiny and the flowers are unscented – it is a waste of space; and it takes up a lot of space!
So finally we come to ‘Clotted Cream’, sometimes called ‘Devon Cream’ which I think is its more accurate epithet. This was registered and patent-protected in 2009 and was introduced in 2011 so it is a fairly new plant. When I was Editor of Garden Answers we frequently offered small plug plants of this as the free offer with the mag but I have never actually grown it till now when I saw some at the local Springmount Garden Centre and bought two to put over an arch. Oddly, some references say it is a tender climber but then as many of the photos of it on the web are absolutely not this plant (or even J. officinale) I will take that with a pinch of salt. Although J. officinale is hardy in all but the coldest climates it is usually deciduous and will not keep its leaves through winter unless it is planted in a very sheltered spot. ‘Clotted Cream’ is a lovely thing and the flowers are said to be bigger than the standard species, but I think you would have to be a very observant bee to notice that! But the colour is distinctive and a lovely cream colour – the colour of cream before dairies started putting chalk in the cream or whatever they do to it to make it white not cream! The scent is still there and it is reported that this is slightly neater in habit than the straight species, reaching 3m. Time will tell but I think the arch will be the highlight of the garden in June 2017!
7/10 – can be a handful to control