February 2018

Mock orange perfumes the Indiana garden

Mock orange blooms, even in shadier locations. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Mock orange blooms in shadier locations. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Some plants shout their presence in the garden by their scent.

For the past month, an antique mock orange has been perfuming the back yard, stirring memories of my mother, who loved the shrub, and the friend who gave it to me.

It is called mock orange because its flowers and intense fragrance recall the citrus. The 1-inch wide flowers are a pure white and can be single or a frilly double with soft yellow stamens.

Sometimes called sweet mock orange or English dogwood, this species (Philadelphus coronarius) comes from southern Europe and has naturalized throughout the eastern United States. There are some native North American mock oranges, but most are located in the western United States and Mexico.

Mock orange prefers a sunny spot, but does quite well in a shadier location, which is where mine has been for 20 years. Grow mock orange in well-drained, moist soil rich in organic matter. It blooms on year-old growth, so if pruning is needed, do so right after it blooms or you risk cutting off next year’s flowers.

It ranges from 4 to 10 feet tall, depending on the cultivar. It has a rounded form with cascading branches ladened with clusters of flowers. The species develops a shrubby appearance as it ages, so plant it where its base is softened by companion plants. It also benefits from an occasional rejuvenation pruning, where old branches are removed to encourage new growth.

Leaves turn a pale yellow or stay green before they fall. On older plants, the bark naturally strips off, or exfoliates, to reveal an orangey color for winter interest.

An old-fashion shrub, mock orange seems to have fallen out of favor the last several years, probably because of its shrubby looks. There are several garden-worthy hybrids, though, including ‘Natchez’ and ‘Minnesota Snowflake’ (P. x virginalis), each with fragrant, 2-inch wide flowers.

1 comment to Mock orange perfumes the Indiana garden

  • I have a double flowering mock orange, ‘Buckley’s Quill’, very pretty in bloom, but I don’t think it is as fragrant as the species or other varieties. It is a somewhat “shrubby” shrub but I still like it for its blooms.