Mexican orange shrub a fragrant, delicate treat
THE Mexican orange blossom shrub has surpassed itself this year and it is still in flower. Unusually among shrubs, which generally have a single flowering period, this pretty shrub normally flowers twice as a matter of course, once in April and May and again in late summer or autumn and even into winter.
What seems like a somewhat fanciful name, the creation of some nurseryman's imagination, is actually reasonably accurate. It is indeed native to Mexico and it is a member of the same family of plants as the orange tree, and all of the citrus family are noted for sweet scent. The Mexican orange blossom, Choisya ternate, is found growing in rocky places in its natural habitat.
The flowers are brilliantly white when seen against the rich green foliage, and are carried in clusters that heighten the effect. They open over a period of several weeks, each cluster opening from buds and new clusters opening in succession.
Being native to Mexico, it might be expected that this plant would not be hardy, and it is not. It can take the cold of most winters but suffered last winter and might be expected to take some damage in most winters away from the coast. In a frosty locality inland, it would need to be planted close to a wall for some protection.
The main kind seen in gardens is the plain green kind, which sells well because it can be brought into flower as a young plant, and the fragrance sells it. This type can grow to about two metres or more across and high.
It grows fast, and its growth is quite soft in this damp climate. As it gets older, it has a tendency for branches to break in strong winds, or partially break, and die back. It is best grown in a bright sunny spot in good soil, not too rich, and well drained. It can be pruned after spring flowering. This light pruning helps to keep it to size and lengthens the life of the bush.
In recent years, two attractive new forms have become popular. One is a gold-leaved form called 'Sundance', which is brilliantly yellow when small and makes a very bright spot of colour in a border. Having yellow leaves, it is not as vigorous and does not flower much, but this is no harm because it is really only grown for its leaves. The leaves can scorch in dry soil in full sun and they turn to yellow-green when lightly shaded.
The other fairly recent introduction is 'Aztec Pearl', which has narrow green leaves and flowers very profusely. This is a very pretty shrub, fast-growing, a great filler in a new garden. It is slightly less hardy than the main species, but survives a normal winter.