I love gardenias. Their perfectly sculpted waxy-white flowers and sweet fragrance are irresistible. Native to China, Taiwan, and Japan, gardenias have been in North America for more than 250 years. Named after Dr. Alexander Garden (1728-1791), a Scottish naturalist, physician, and planter, gardenias first arrived at Garden’s Yeshoe Plantation in Charleston (“Charles Towne”). In short time, their popularity spread throughout the colonies and across to Europe.
Gardenias may reach a height and spread of 4 to 6 ft., although I’ve seen 8 ft. high specimens. Their polished evergreen leaves provide an attractive canvas for their bountiful floral display, which is heaviest in late April to June and intermittent thereafter.
Since Dr. Garden’s time, gardenias have come a long way with so many delectable choices. Cultivars with double-white flowers include First Love®, ‘August Beauty,’ and ‘Mystery.’ ‘Chuck Hayes’ bears jaw-dropping semi-double flowers, and ‘Grif’s Select,’ ‘Kleim’s Hardy,’ ‘Shooting Star,’ and ‘Variegata’ have single-white flowers. ‘MADGA I’ (Heaven Scent®) is a compact columnar-shaped gardenia with a height and spread of 3 to 4 ft. It produces a blizzard of single white flowers in June and reblooms through August and September. In the fall the flowers give rise to attractive orange-red fruits that persist in winter.
I’m especially enchanted by the double-flowered gardenias. Often when I admire an exquisitely designed flower, time stands still—and for a brief moment everything seems right with the world. Maybe that’s why gardenias have been cultivated for over a thousand years.
© 2015 Bob Polomski