Known as sweet mock orange in English and gelsomino della Madonna (Madonna’s jasmin) in Italian,most common names referring to this beautiful, deciduous shrub highlight the intense fragrance of its blossoms, which cover it with a profusion of white in June and July. Native to a few areas in Southern Europe and the Caucasus, I remember encountering it more often in Northern Italy than here in Scotland, where it is mostly present as a single specimen in gardens or positioned along walking paths in public parks. It has to be noted that most of its current varieties are not as strongly scented as the original, and a very, very old plant in my grandparents’ garden (the place dated back to the 1850s) was the sweetest I have ever encountered: I can still smell a cloud of persisting orange scent on a warm summer evening if I close my eyes! My granny used to say the plant was a popular bridal flower for this reason, along with its colour, and I can certainly see why.
If you encounter an old, highly scented mock orange in this period and want to try your hand at propagating it, you should visit it again in Autumn to take hardwood cuttings, it will be highly rewarding in a few years.
This species of Philadelphus was discovered by Meriwether Lewis in 1806. It’s flowers and scent are reminiscent of orange blossoms, thus it’s common name, the mock-orange. Unlike oranges, these attractive shrubs produce dry, 4-parted capsule fruits that are wholly inedible. Their leaves, however, contain saponins and can be crushed to make a mild soap. They are a popular ornamental plant here in the eastern PNW and are the state flower of Idaho. Look for them scattered throughout drier slopes in the west, where they tend to grow singly or in small populations. Here in Missoula, they cover the hillsides with gorgeous white blooms at the beginning of summer, much like Amelanchier in the spring.