by Richard Hebda
Botanical scents are everywhere these days - in shampoos, in soaps, in air fresheners. Yet there is still little that matches the delicious fragrance of a plant in the garden on a warm, sunny day. One of our most beautiful native shrubs, Mock Orange (Philadelphus lewisii), provides gardeners with a wonderful orange-like scent, and much more.
Loose, elongate clusters of snow-white flowers appear at the end of the branches from late May to July, depending on the shrub’s location. Greenish sepals surround the petals, and a mass of yellow-tipped stamens punctuates the display. The greenish four-chambered pistil in the middle of each flower matures into a dry, dark-brown pointed capsule.
Gardeners have long prized mock orange for its showy flowers and exotic scent. David Douglas, the famed botanical explorer of our region, brought it to European gardens in 1825. In your garden, choose a site in full sun and soil of normal fertility. Try it in the shrub border, as a lawn specimen or at the edge of a woodland patch. Combine this shrub with other native species, such as Nootka Rose (Rosa nutkana), Ocean Spray (Holodiscus discolor) and Snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus), into a wildlife-friendly, people-resistant hedge. Power-line right-of-ways are suitable sites because of the mock orange’s modest height.
Mock Orange is widely available from garden centres and nurseries, and it germinates readily from seed. For a wild effect, you can scatter seeds over the site where you would like the plant to grow, and let nature take over. Seeds sown in flats in the fall germinate readily in the spring. Mock Orange roots easily from cuttings taken in mid-July and treated with a hormone. To establish Mock Orange on a dry, rocky site, mulch and water it well for a year or two.
It’s hard to imagine a better native shrub for wild or tame gardens in our region. The dense intertwined branches of mock orange are even ideal for bird nests. Bushtits hang their small pouches among the branches, while other birds assemble more conventional nests in the crotches of the stems. With its attractive blooms and intoxicating fragrance, mock orange will serve you and your local bird life well for many years.