With a little effort, it's easily possible to have a garden that offers some sensory appeal, such as fragrance, throughout the entire year. And although most fragrance comes from trees in spring and autumn, there is actually a small tree that offers astounding fragrance to the winter garden. This is the old-fashioned Sweet Olive, or Osmanthus fragrans, an evergreen shrub that becomes a small, round-headed tree. For most of the year Sweet Olive is a quietly handsome broad-leaf evergreen. On a healthy tree, the simple leaves are typically a somber dark green, and slightly serrate. They bring to mind the handsome foliage of camellias, and also like camellias, the new growth is colourfully flushed burgundy and chartreuse. Being evergreen, Sweet Olive can also serve in the same capacity as hollies and camellias, that is, as hedges and privacy screens. And if Sweet Olive had no other attributes, the foliage alone makes it garden worthy. But of course the real charm of this small evergreen comes in autumn when the quite small, and hardly noticeable off-white flowers, begin to bloom and emit their powerful, yet elusive, fragrance. This sweet scent has been likened to ripe apricots and is enticing enough to lure one out of doors even on the dreariest winter days. And for the average property, one Sweet Olive tree can easily perfume the entire garden.

Sweet Olive may live 30 to 50 years and, with maturity, may reach 20 to 25 feet, as wide as tall and vase-shaped. It makes a handsome specimen located near the courtyard, or as a foundation planting. And if fragrance alone is the object, Sweet Olive can be tucked into the back of the border or worked into an evergreen hedge. It does produce fruit, a small, blue-black drupe that is as modest as the flower that produced it, but otherwise, it's a tidy tree that creates very little litter. It can grow in either part-shade or full sun. It prefers moist, well-drained soil that is reasonably fertile. It is only moderately drought tolerant and does not like hard winter regions. It will do best in subtropic to warm-temperate regions.

Sweet Olive


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