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With its beautiful and fragrant blooms, the common gardenia is perfect for any landscape, writes Stephanie Choo

THE flowers of the common Gardenia or Cape Jasmine smell as wonderful as they look. When in bloom, they are simply bewitching.

The plant grows well when left alone as too much care can do more harm than good. However, it can be finicky and specific in its requirements to flourish and flower well.

PLANT FACT

Gardenia is a genus of the coffee family, Rubiaceae. The species, Gardenia jasminoides (synonym Gardenia augusta) is native to southern China, Japan and Taiwan and is among its more than 200 species.

The perennial, an evergreen shrub, is often found growing wild in the broad-leaved forests at low to medium elevations of India, Myanmar, southern China, Vietnam, Taiwan and Japan. The Chinese call the flowering plant zhi zi while the Japanese call it kuchinasi.

CHARACTERISTICS

Gardenia jasminoides comprises many cultivars that vary in flower size and form as well as in shrub growth habit and dimension. Depending on the variety, the mature plant ranges from 0.6m to 2.4m in height and width. The white or cream blooms are mostly double-flowered, sweetly-scented and rose-like. They start as tight buds. When all the petals are opened, the yellow pollen bud in the centre is revealed. The petals turn yellow as they age. Certain varieties even yield orange oval-shaped hips or fruits.

The shrub has beautiful foliage. The glossy, deep-green leaves are mostly oval-shaped, with pointed tips. The variety G. jasminoides "Variegata" has striking green, cream and white variegated leaves and grows faster and flowers more often than the green types.

USES

G. jasminoides was a traditional dye plant in ancient China. The husks of seeds produce a brilliant yellow-scarlet dye for textile dyeing. The plant was introduced in Britain in the mid-18th Century and is popular as ornaments in the garden.

The shrub makes a perfect specimen, foundation, hedge and background plant for beds and borders with its medium-textured leaves. It also makes a great addition to any landscape.

The "Variegata" variety can be used as a focal point while the shorter types fare well either as ground cover or potted plants. The fragrant petals can be used to make floral sachets.

REQUIREMENTS

Common gardenia is excellent for both en masse plantings and in a pot. Though it loves heat, it performs best in partial sun. However, the variegated form needs more sun.

Grow the plant in slightly acidic, well-drained soil that has lots of organic matter with pH between 5.0 and 5.5. Water frequently or daily to keep soil moist.

Common gardenias are heavy feeders. Apply complete fertilisers regularly and alternate with dried pelleted goat manure. Occasionally, add used coffee grounds to soil to increase nitrogen for healthy leaves, and potassium-rich banana peels under or on the soil to promote strong root growth.

Prune to shape, discard deadwood or straggly branches and deadhead for bushier growth and more flowers. Propagate using seeds or semi-hardwood stems about 10cm long which have been cut just below a leaf node.

Tips

If you find it difficult to purchase gardenia at nurseries, obtain a cutting from a shrub and propagate a new one yourself.

Good air circulation helps keep pests such as mealybugs, aphids and spider mites at bay. If the plant is infested with these bugs, use insecticidal soap or oil to control them.

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