New Secret Recipe for Gardenia Success

Gardenia jasminoides "Ruin Garden"

Coquettes all, Gardenias tease with their shiny green foliage and promise of forever; they seduce with their fragrance like silky nights on Delta shores. Only such sirens could make me bend my rule – “three times die and you’re no more”. But after trying every acid, sandy, loamy, free-draining, full sun, shady afternoon, planted high recipe I could find, I called it quits at five deaths. Not another penny did I spend on a soul-stirring Gardenia. But I failed to reckon with the two freebies on offer from a generous plant breeder.

Sinking them in a free-draining, slightly acidic, moist soil, next to our dovecote “ruin”, I recited a little Voodoo and, thinking positive thoughts, crept away lest I disturb the little beauties. They lasted through the summer, began to turn pallid come autumn, downright necrotic during winter, pushed out two new leaves this past spring, and then dropping all their leaves, died.

Skeptic or dreamer that I am, I waited until the end of April – more out of a need to scold myself with the pitiful sight of gnarly roots and branches than to encourage anything like hope – before digging up the Gardenias and starting across the creek to the compost heap. Too tired and discouraged to carry on up the cove, I stopped off at the new garden and dropped them out of sight between a red maple and a box elder stump. Maybe they’d find salvation in death, adding a little humus to the churned up splinters and mud left behind by the deconstruction of the old log barn.

A few weeks ago, I stepped outside into an August morning awash in what already felt like the sweet wine of October. In my arms I carried a tray of Carex ‘Everillo’ mixed with a half-dozen hellebore seedlings. Time to move a few more orphans from the greenhouse into the Spartan landscape I alternately called “Kim’s Annex” and the “Barnless Garden.” The axed box elder made an adequate plant table for the sedges and Lenten roses while I ruminated on where to plant them. Would the hellebores ground the spindly-legged Camellias or perhaps, better yet, skirt the raw rock wall? If wall it could be called with its lofty one stone height.

Gardenia - New Secret Recipe for Success
The Barnless Garden – New Home of Gardenia jasminoides planted with the “secret recipe for success.”



Moving the hellebores from the wall over to the Camellias and then to the Lilliputian forest of Digitalis ‘Silver Fox’, I scooted the ‘Everillos’ over on their stump and joined them to meditate upon the scene. I almost stepped on it – shiny green-leafed twin to the one at its side, both throbbing with rude health and vitality. They – still holding the shape of their late black plastic pots – sat poised atop the ground, side roots exposed, just as I’d dropped them months before. Except for all that burgeoning life.

I’ll keep my expectations low. See how it goes. I doubt I’ll ever see a bloom, but I’ll settle for life. Maybe, after all, I stumbled on a new recipe for cultivating Gardenia jasminoides. If, I can stop myself from throwing a little soil over those roots.  If, I can restrain my urge to treat them to just a little water. If, I can keep my interfering, gardening hands to myself. And if, pigs can fly.


The image above – The Ruin Garden where the Gardenias, sad and forlorn, wasted away to nothing.