The Star of the Yard

The mock orange as viewed from my living room window

I see it. I smell it. I love it. It’s an exclamation point in my garden. I’m talking about the mock orange (formally known as Philadelphus) that is exploding right now with deliciously fragrant, single, white blooms. Mine usually blooms around summer solstice, but this year it is already inching toward peak bloom a few weeks earlier. Darn! Because I am opening my garden for a few hours on June 23rd and I was hoping to have my Philadelphus play a starring role. Alas, it is not to be this year.

I actually have three Philadelphus in my garden. They were well on their way to maturity when I bought the house more than 15 years ago so I have no idea of their age or parentage. One is planted in a very shady area of the yard; though tall, not surprisingly it has sparse blooms. Another is a double. It is perhaps around 10 feet tall, also deliciously fragrant. It usually starts blooming a week or so later than the star of the yard, the mock orange I see from my living room window. That one is perhaps 15 feet tall and vase shaped.

Though it’s hard not to be distracted by the glorious blooms, if you look carefully it is actually an awkward shrub. I find it difficult to prune well because new growth shoots straight up at a 90 degree angle and there is a fair amount of die back at the tips each year. This website recommends cutting out up to one-third of the oldest branches each year. Because it blooms on last year’s growth, or “old” wood, it is best to prune after it blooms. I haven’t done any drastic pruning before, but perhaps it is worth a try.

After it blooms, there is little to recommend my largest mock orange other than its scale and the fact that it harbors no pest or disease. To provide an additional few months of interest, two Clematis have been plant to grow up through it.

This blog from Ed Hume identifies several cultivars of mock orange, some growing less than six feet tall, and how to care for them.

Perhaps my biggest one is a native: Philadelphus gordonianus Lindl. var. columbianus (synonym of Philadelphus lewisii Pursh). A bit of a mouthful for such a star.

A double Philadelphus

Mingling with Black Lace Sambucus

The single flowers from the largest mock orange