Philadelphus – The Mock Orange
Philadelphus – brotherly love – is the poignant name for mock orange, a shrub with superb orange-scented white flowers in spring.
I find Philadelphus or Mock Orange (the name usually used for evergreen Philadelphus coronarius), to be the hardiest shrub in my unwatered garden in Victoria. It reaches 2.5m high in only 15cm of soil over sloping rock, where many other plants have perished. It survives and even grows during summer! The slightly squarish creamy white flowers are borne on attractive arching stems in late spring and early summer. However it is large and woody if cut back, so I only recommend this species to the country gardener who wants an evergreen screen beyond the reach of the hose.
Philadelphus – Species and Varieties
Philadephus are floriferousThe gold-leaf form, P. coronarius ‘Aurea’ leaves me rather cold but for those who like different foliage, it needs some sun for the fully golden effect.
Other Philadelphus are dazzlingly pure white (with the exception of pinkish P. ‘Belle Etoile’) and are deciduous. Well-known P. ‘Virginal’ has large double white flowers – 4cm across – but this variety is an ‘upright gaunt shrub’ to quote Phillips and Rix, and I find it the gawkiest shrub in my country garden. I keep it as it is hard to cull a plant that survives my harsh conditions – and flowers profusely – along with a straggly Spirea and a handsome Cistus. Even bearded iris fade to nothing here!
I really prefer the dwarf ones. Most well known is P. ‘Silver Showers’ or more correctly ‘Silbarregan’, a sweet bush to 1m high with single white flowers, less perfumed than most. This is rather upright compared to P. ‘Sybille’ with semi-double white flowers on gracefully arching stems; this variety reaches 1m and is the first to flower. As it is deciduous, I have dwarf Narcissus at its feet, where they receive sun in winter, and later these bulbs are shaded and hidden by the beautiful arching stems of the mock orange.
Next to flower is P. caucasicus, from Russia, which may flower into early summer along with P. coronarius.
The tallest I know are showy P. ‘Natchez’ which reaches 4m at Dicksonia Rare Plants Nursery in Mt Macedon; this variety has large white flowers in late spring; and P intectus to 5m from North America; I have not seen the latter in Australia.
To my insensitive nose, the perfume of evergreen P. coronarius is away the best and a few picked flowers are wonderful in the house. It’s also good to have such an easy plant in the garden: planted and forgotten, never watered, it thrives, which is perfect for the lazy (or to be kind, busy) gardener I am.
Jill Weatherhead is a garden designer in Melbourne, the Dandenong Ranges and eastern Gippsland.
Photographs by Jill Weatherhead
- Philadephus or ‘Mock Orange Plants’ for sale in Australia
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