The Sweetest Smell-Osmanthus Fragrans

It is not the prettiest. Not that showy at all, in fact the flowers are quite small and insignificant. But baby oh baby oh, do they pack an odiferous wallop. Osmanthus fragrans is the name of this late summer into fall blooming evergreen shrub. It is also known as sweet olive, tea olive and fragrant olive and is native to Asia. Now blooming in the Fairegarden.

The original idea was an evergreen planting along the fenceline that would provide privacy, planted to replace the zebra grass, Miscanthus sinesis ‘Zebrinus’ that was a poor idea on so many levels, in January of 2008. Read the original post about that by clicking here-Grass to Osmanthus, with a follow up here-Update, if you are interested.

Fast forward to September, 2011. The silver chain link fence has been covered over with rolls of bamboo. The nice sized specimens have taken a hit from several years of drought and a harsher than usual winter last year. In addition, vandalistic squirrels had dug up the soil around the rootballs in order to plant a forest of black walnut trees for the feeding of future rodent generations. Bags of good compost were applied to the exposed roots and pruning of dead branches neatened them up a bit. Things are looking up for the sweet smelling Osmanthus fragrans now.

Looking up, but not looking particularly good. Several have died outright and have been replaced with Fothergilla. Even some of those replacements have died. This is a tough location to plant. Extra water in times of drought and extra mulching to keep those roots covered are the doctor’s orders.

This extra effort is worth it, I promise you. If only computers had smell-o-vision, you would understand. These little mini popcorn looking flowers are the source of the sweetest scent I have ever sniffed. From anywhere in the garden, a slight breeze will bring the wafting of wonderfulness that has one lift their head and look around to determine from whence it came.

It is a good year for the blossoms, the most ever actually. The compost is the difference. Mark that down, yearly composted manure for the Osmanthus fragrans. Check.

Some fact about Osmanthus fragrans:

*Small shrub or tree growing 10-15 feet tall under good conditions. (not here)
*Winter hardy in USDA zones 8b-11. (we are 7a)
*Likes consistently moist, well-drained soil, including heavy clay. (we have that except the moist part)
*Genus name comes from Greek osme (fragrant) and anthos (flower). (it is that)
*Enjoys full sun to partial shade, afternoon shade best. (yes)
*Blooms in early spring, late summer, autumn and winter (amazing!)
*Broadleaf evergreen with dark green, shiny, oval, sometimes toothed leaves.
*Can be grown in a container to be brought inside in colder zones.
*Pruning helps keep a neater shape and size.
*Winter dieback can be a set-back, but not fatal. Wait until warm weather to prune back to green leaves.

In trying to think of words to describe the extraordinary sweet scent, fruity, apricot, peachy come to mind. Difficulty in growing this should not be a deterrent, due to the delicious fragrance. Even if not everyone is cognizant of the perfume as they make their way along the fence to the top of the hill.


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22 Responses to The Sweetest Smell-Osmanthus Fragrans

  1. Layanee says:

    I do like the bamboo screen over the chain link. The garden is filling out and, yes, on the smell-a-vision. A nice shrub. I caught the scent of the blooming English Ivy this a.m. It is blooming at the top of the oak tree and the bees are so loud it is almost frightening.

    Thanks Layanee. That screen was so easy to install, even if it only lasts a year or two before being replaced, it was an instant improvement. Now if only the Osmanthus would thrive. The smell is incredible. I don’t believe I know the smell of English Ivy, we ripped it all out here.

  2. Les says:

    My hat is off to you and your zone-pushing. As you know this plant is worth any effort, the aroma is so very sweet. I do not have room for one, but my across the street neighbor, who does not garden, has one that perfumes my yard each fall.

    Thanks Les. The tag said zone 7 and somewhere it was on a list of plants that could live near a black walnut. The first planting was a row of Rhododendrons, then pine trees, both did not last out a year. The Miscanthus did well, but had too much down time and was floppy. If you could see the size of these, under 3 feet tall, you would think you had room!

  3. Barbara H. says:

    I found out about tea olive when visiting Cross Creek, the Florida home of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, many, many years ago. There was no visual source of the most wonderful fragrance in the air. The volunteer took me over to a tall bush and I was dumbfounded. I never forgot it. When I moved to NE Alabama four years ago, I found one for sale and promptly purchased it. Later I found another one. They have not yet lived up to my expectations. This year the second one was covered in flowers and I caught a whiff. A few days later most of the flowers were off. I’ll be adding the composted manure!

    Hi Barbara, thanks for joining in the sweet olive lovefest here. The flowers don’t look like they could possibly be the source of so much perfume, I agree. They are planted in a difficult place here, bone dry and that black walnut tree. The manure has certainly helped, as well as the torrential downpour from the tropical storm that came through earlier.

  4. Robin Ripley says:

    Lovely. I am happy to see your pet turtle make an appearance again too.

    Thanks Robin. You are the only one to comment on her. She just happened to be climbing the hill, following the fence, when I was snapping photos.

  5. Gail says:

    Sweet Olive is one of my favorites. It reminds me of a special trip to New Orleans. We were staying in a friend’s home and every morning the scent wafted up the stairs from the courtyard. Yummy. I so agree with Layanee~the fence looks great covered with the bamboo. xxoogail

    Thanks for sharing that, Gail. I would love to have one of these planted near an open window, it does smell delicious. I am happy with the bamboo, too. It has weathered to blend into the scenery better, too.

  6. Wendy says:

    I heartily agree with you on the deliciousness of the scent!! I looked for a bush for nearly 2 years after reading about it on Token’s blog… FINALLY found one early this year at a local nursery. I, too am in zone 7 and now fearful for it’s I had hoped it would flourish and grow big, bold and bushy… but alas it remains small, with sporadic leaves on various oddball branches. Definitely makes you work for its’ smell! I will try the compost idea and see if that perks it up for next year. 🙂


    Hi Wendy, thanks for adding your own experience here. I had also hoped for the larger size and fullness, it has not happened here and probably never will. We are too dry, but it is worth keeping for that sweet smell. The manure helped.

  7. Oh how jealous I am! I fell head-over-heels in love with Osmanthus when I was in Japan, where it is planted everywhere and I spent weeks wondering what it was before I finally tracked it down to those tiny flowers. Not even close to hardy for me. But I might have to try overwintering them indoors or something. Nothing in the world smells better!

    Hi Joseph, thanks for visiting and verifying the sweetest scent. It might be worth the effort to have one in a container to bring in and out. Mine are small and still produce flowers.

  8. wpoliver says:

    This is one of my favorite scents in the garden. I just love it. Amazingly, I discovered it late but I’ve planted several since finding it. I have never been able to get a good photo. Yours looks amazing.

    Hi Phillip, thanks for visiting. This is my favorite scent, as well. The shrub is difficult to photograph, I have found a macro of the flowers to be easier. Sometimes the light is just right…

  9. Sandra Jonas says:

    One of my favorites. Here in zone 7 it becomes a large evergreen shrub and the bloom, twice a year, spring & fall is outstanding (fragrance wise). I posted about this shrub recently as I have also aquired the orange flowering variety.
    Good for you for trying it in your zone. Water is the answer to your plants difficulties. When well hydrated they can survive a harsh winter.

    Hi Sandra, thanks for adding in. I wish it would get large here, but on the dry slope, it doesn’t seem to ever be possible. The bamboo gives the privacy screening, so I don’t have to depend on the Osmanthus for that. We just get to enjoy the scent. I would love to see an orange flowering one. Well hydrated cannot be on our steep slope and with the weather we have been experiencing the last several years.

  10. Leslie says:

    I will be adding compost to mine as soon as possible!

    I highly recommend it, Leslie!

  11. Virginia Callicott says:

    There was a very large sweet olive, at least 15 feet, at my childhood home in New Orleans. When my husband and I settled in Middle Tennessee in the 60’s, I had to have one even if only in a pot that you brought in for the winter. At that point our winters were more severe. Cheekwood Botanical Gardens had Osmanthus Fragrans in their camellia greenhouse where they perfumed it about the time that the spring flowering camellias began, January, February. But mine bloomed in September or early October. In the late ’80’s or early ’90’s we planted it outside on the south side when we tired of hauling the thing in and out! It is now enormous and just finished perfuming the world. It is in partial shade so only suffers a bit of winter burn occasionally. It is a testament to global warming that both the sweet olive and my fig can now make it in Zone 7!

    Hi Virginia, thanks for adding that great story! I am so happy to hear that your Osmanthus is thriving and adding its scent to your world. We are true zone 7a, but as with all gardens, there are microclimates that help with zone denial hardiness. There were sites that claimed the Osmanthus to be hardy to our zone, as did the tag when we purchased them. It is the drought that is the devil here, and the global weirdness is not helping with that at all. Thank goodness for tropical storms that dump 18 inches of rain in three days, is all we can say.

  12. Hi Frances – I love how you have covered the fence with rolls of bamboo. It looks really great.
    I will have to look out for Osmanthus fragrans at our nburseries so I can smell it. I think they are pretty great looking too.

    Thanks Christine. I am quite pleased with the bamboo, wish I had done it sooner. It really helps with privacy and looks nice, as well. I hope you can locate an Osmanthus to sniff, it really is the sweetest smell…

  13. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    I knew this was too good to be true around here. I live in 6b. I doubt I could grow it. They do look interesting.

    Perhaps you could keep one in a container to bring in and out, like a houseplant? The scent is worth any effort.

  14. Jenny B says:

    After much reading and research, I planted Sweet Olive to replace the Gardenias that gave up the ghost last year. I planted them early this Spring before the horrific summer temps set in. Unbelievably, they have survived! Probably because they are set back in a niche on the east side of the house. I look forward to the day they thrive and bloom–I can’t wait to get a whiff of that beautiful fragrance. Loved seeing Mr. Turtle (or is that Ms. Turtle?) busy minding his own business along the fence line.

    Hi Jenny, thanks for adding in here. I am so happy that your Osmanthus survived the torture of summer! You will be rewarded with a perfume beyond your imaginings! I believe that is a young female, Orange Stockings, trudging up the hill.

  15. By covering your wire fence with bamboo, you’ve transformed something rather ugly to a thing of organic beauty. That was a great idea.

    I use Osmanthus fragrans as front yard hedges and when they’re in full bloom, the scent is so strong that I have to keep all the windows facing front closed or we will all become intoxicated.

    Thanks Hanna. The chain link is the ugliest of fencing materials, the bamboo certainly transformed it. How wonderful to have a hedge of Osmanthus. I would love to be drunk on that scent! There was hope of a hedge of it here, but with even with half of them deceased and the rest still small, the scent is still wonderful.

  16. So true! We have so many that I can’t count them anymore. The fragrance just about knocks us out! The ginger and gardenia are also blooming right now.

    Wow Freda, that sounds delightfully fragrant! What an atmosphere must surround your beautiful garden now!

  17. Rose says:

    My computer doesn’t have smell-o-vision, but the fragrance sounds heavenly! I’m glad your hard work has been rewarded this year, Frances.

    Thanks Rose. I am sorry we lack that smell-o, it would be a good selling point for online nurseries!

  18. Sheila says:

    thanks for reminding me to get out and smell the flowers. I type this sitting at the dining room table where I look out the window at a small osmanthus in flower. Yet, I am ashamed to say, I have been so busy lately that I have not taken time to enjoy its fragrance. I, too, am zone-pushing. We are in zone 7b/8a, and the osmanthus has been growing for about 4 years in part to mostly shade under mature trees in dry clay soil. It has not grown very much, but it is alive and flowers. Maybe in about 20 years it will form part of the privacy screen for which it was purchased!

    Thanks for stopping by and joining in, Sheila. I believe the slow growth is due to the dry conditions. At least yours is alive and blooming. That is about as much as we can hope for here, as well. And….worth it!!!

  19. Cathy says:

    I love the bamboo on the fence. It’s a neutral natural background that really keeps the plants in the forefront. Is it something that a climber could grab onto? I saw an advertisement for it someplace and Steve wanted to look into it – seeing it in your garden gives me a new perspective on it. And those olives…. I also wish the computer could generate fragrance!

    Thanks Cathy. The bamboo certainly made an immediate difference in the appearance of that side of the yard. Even photos of anything with that in the background are so much more attractive. It is not very strong, but with the metal chain link behind it could support vines, perhaps. I would use trelliage in front if the vines are stout.

  20. CurtissAnn says:

    I have them, too! One, more of a tree actually, right by the back door. I, too, just bloomed, and oh, my, the best since we’ve been in our Alabama home. Like a drug to bring a smile. We love it so much that we planted another on the other corner of the house, at the back porch. It is growing well. We’ve had them bloom several times through the winter. I have not taken as good a photo as you–I’m encouraged to keep trying!

    Hi CurtissAnn, thanks for adding to the conversation. I am so glad your Osmanthus are doing well and blooming. If we were a little farther south, I believe ours would do better, and if they were in a wetter spot. Still, the smell is otherworldly. The flowers are so tiny, they are difficult to photograph. Sometimes I get lucky. I also take hundreds of shots to get one decent one. Keep trying!

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