The Scent of Confederate Jasmine

– Posted in: Garden Adventures


This time of year, South Carolina’s warm, moist air is fragrant with Confederate (star) jasmine, above, and robust gardenias like those in the garden below. I was there recently to address the Charleston Horticultural Society (CHS) on my specialty, designing with succulents. Naturally I wondered if I’d see any.

The CHS arranged for me to stay in a historic downtown Charleston “single” — a house that’s one room wide, not including its palazzos (porches).  As you can see, Katie Roberts—who put me up and put up with me—painted the door of her home’s former coach house morning-glory purple. My kind of gal.

CHS members Jackie Joye, Patti McGee and Beverly Gumb graciously took me to gardens and nurseries. These lovely Southern ladies and I bonded thanks to our mutual passion for plants.

In addition to making it possible to grow glorious camellias, azaleas and gardenias, the Low Country’s acidic soil turns hydrangeas blue. Naturally, because it’s hard to grow them, residents want pink hydrangeas.

My garden has alkaline soil (I covet blue hydrangeas) and brown-gray lizards. Charleston gardens are bejeweled with chameleons. They really do change color depending on what they’re sitting on. [Corrected below. — DLB]

Here’s something else you don’t see in Southern CA (except in theme parks).

Or “tabby”: pavement with an aggregate of shells.

The garden of Charleston artist and lifelong resident Marty Whaley Adams Cornwell graces a pre-Revolutionary-War house on Church Street built by Thomas Heyward, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Famed landscape architect Loutrel Briggs designed the garden 70 years ago. Depending on your vantage point, a shallow pool reflects a classical statue, the sky and/or the surrounding garden.

Jim Martin, executive director of the Charleston Parks Conservancy, a nonprofit organization dedicated to beautifying and preserving the city’s many public parks, is not shy about color in his own garden. A whimsical spiral of pink echoes a bromeliad’s color and the ribbon-like leaves of Agave bracteosa. (A succulent!)

Several of the gardens I visited, like Mollie Fair’s (above), had impressive water views and were bordered by marshland. See those leaves that stand out, in the perennial border to the right of center? Agave americana medio-picta ‘Alba’!

Immense oaks dripped with Spanish moss, a kind of tillandsia (air plant). “Don’t touch it,” cautioned Beverly, a split second too late. “Red bugs.” Also known as chiggers, these microscopic insects literally get under your skin. Although none came aboard, just finding out about them made me itch.

Also new to me was a red apple ice plant (Aptenia cordifolia) with yellow flowers. A succulent-savvy friend later ID’d it as Aptenia haekeliana.

Sedum cascaded from a pedestal pot in the garden of Jim Smeal and Alejandro Gonzales. As Alejandro gestured to coleus, bromeliads and amaryllis, he explained that he loves the color coral.

Beneath the home’s eaves, another succulent, donkey tail (Sedum morganianum), shared a hanging basket with a mottled bromeliad.

In her downtown Charleston garden, plantswoman/horticulturist Linda Guy grows cacti and succulents in pots and in a long, rectangular raised bed. Doubtless she makes sure the soil is extremely well-drained. Charleston may get as much as 55 inches of rainfall a year. By comparison, my home town of Escondido (in that epicenter of succulents, Southern CA) typically gets fewer than 15.

In Linda’s garden was a bearded iris that resembled an orchid. Her business, Plants Nouveau, specializes in great new introductions.


Also in Linda’s garden is this pretty, efficient and enviable potting area.

The morning after my CHS presentation, I gave an impromptu presentation to Patti’s garden club. She loves succulents and has an impressive collection in pots in her garden’s sunny areas.

Succulent sources for that region include Tony Avent’s Plant Delights nursery in Raleigh, North Carolina, and Lowe’s and Home Depot stores.

If you’ll be in the Charleston area, independent nurseries well worth visiting include:
Garden Wise Nursery & Garden Center (owned by John and Nora Wise), Johns Island
Hyams Garden & Accent Store, North Charleston. On staff is Sarah Petrowski, who has an impressive knowledge of succulents.
Sea Island Savory Herbs, Johns Island

And before you go (or while you’re there) be sure to read “Very Charleston: A Celebration of History, Culture and Lowcountry Charm,” written and illustrated by Diana Hollingsworth Gessler.

Yes, that’s Confederate jasmine. Just imagine the intensity of the fragrance!

Debra Lee Baldwin
Award-winning garden photojournalist Debra Lee Baldwin authored the Timber Press bestsellers Designing with Succulents, Succulent Container Gardens, and Succulents Simplified. Debra is a regular contributor to Sunset and other publications, and her own half-acre garden near San Diego has been featured in Better Homes & Gardens. Debra specializes in showing how to use architectural, waterwise and easy-care succulents in a wide variety of appealing and creative applications. www.debraleebaldwin.com.
Debra Lee Baldwin
Debra Lee Baldwin

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Les May 27, 2011, 9:39 pm

I had the pleasure of living in Charleston for three years, and it was very hard for me to leave. Fortunately Confederate Jasmine grows well in my corner of Virginia, and my back garden is nearly choking in it.

Hi, Les — I used to grow it, too, but had to take it out because it became too rampant. But now, when I see or smell it, I’ll remember one of the best business trips of my life. I’m very glad I was in Charleston when the jasmine was blooming. Scents can be powerful souvenirs. — Debra

Cathy May 28, 2011, 5:56 am

Thinking back to a small potted jasmine I had for many years, I can only imagine what it must be like to sit in a garden with the air heavily perfumed by such an exquisite fragrance.

Succulents are definitely under-represented in our garden where our annual rainfall is closer to Charleston’s than yours. But you’ve definitely motivated me to consider adding more. I never thought to plant them in urns or pots but that would be an excellent way of getting around the drainage issues that plague the parts of our garden where I think they would do best!

Thanks for an informative article. I think my hypertufa urns will be getting a facelift!

Hi, Cathy — That’s exactly why I wrote Succulent Container Gardens (the sequel to Designing with Succulents). There’s a lot of interest in growing these sculptural, jewel-like plants in areas that are too hot, cold or wet than the plants prefer. Containers, like your hypertufa pots (which are ideal for succulents) are portable, so the plants can be moved when necessary. Thanks for stopping by! — Debra

Nell Jean May 28, 2011, 8:40 am

Charleston is full of plants unique to the Coastal South. We take them for granted; thank you for pointing out how special they are.

Confederate jasmine can take your breath away. It makes a marvelous groundcover where it is happy.

Two women who were born-and-raised there told me they don’t like it, and find the scent too strong. Made me wonder if locals tend to burn out on it. — Debra

Kathy Fitzgerald May 28, 2011, 11:03 am

Isn’t Charleston delight-full?
I live in southeastern North Carolina, where summer humidity is just as horrific. That little lizard’s not a chameleon, though: he’s an anole (ah-NO-lee). And the beautiful iris you photographed is a Neomarica caerulea, commonly known as walking iris. Mine died one winter several years ago–thanks for putting me onto Plants Nouveau so I can get a new one.’!

Hi, Kathy — Thank you for the correction! Anole…I wondered why the lizard hadn’t turned the gray-brown of the screen. I thought maybe it took a while, but if it does, what’s the point? Camouflage, I should think, needs to be fairly rapid for a critter that moves fast. On the other hand, maybe Southern lizards are slow? So many unanswered questions! Obviously, I need to go back. (Any excuse will do). — Debra

Roberta May 28, 2011, 7:04 pm

Debra!
You have indeed captured all the Southern charm with your great photos :) I love Spanish moss and have some in my yard.I have always been told not to touch it!LOL By the sellers at the nurseries or plant shows.I always thought the plant itself caused the irritation, not chiggers!! I was told by someone that along time ago they used to stuff car seats with it! :D
Also I love the pavement with shells, I’ll take that over streets lined with gold any day.

Thank you, Roberta. I sure hope they fumigated the Spanish moss before using it as stuffing. ;+) Debra

Pam/Digging May 28, 2011, 10:44 pm

That’s where my husband and I honeymooned 21 years ago this week. Charleston is a beautiful city, but I haven’t seen it in two decades. I’m overdue for another visit. How cool that you got to meet Jim of Compost in My Shoe. I’m a fan of his blog and met him at Buffa10 last summer.

Hi, Pam — A very romantic destination. My husband and I celebrated our anniversary there several years ago, and went to Savannah as well. Jim didn’t mention his blog. Good to know! — Debra

Hoover Boo May 29, 2011, 11:26 am

I planted Trachelospermum by my garbage cans. At this time of year, I’m delighted to take out the trash!

Lovely photos: thanks for the views of Charleston.

What a good idea! And no doubt it would mask any unpleasant smells. — Debra

lloyd traven May 30, 2011, 6:05 am

Debra: Love charleston, Jim Martin, Linda!!! One correction—Plants Nouveau is NOT a mail order company, at least not yet. They are a new plant introduction agent and representative. Perhaps one of their licensees does mail order—we are getting a license and are looking to start mail order soon, but as far as we know NOW, Plants Nouveau doesn’t sell directly to anyone but its licensees. Glad you had fun in Charleston.

Thanks, Lloyd! I took out the line that says they sell mail-order. — Debra

carolyn mullet May 30, 2011, 6:45 am

So romantic and so southern! Charleston is a national garden treasure.

I know, and the food is amazing, too. Shh. — Debra

Sheila Schultz May 31, 2011, 10:59 am

What a lovely way to start my day… a mini-vacation to Charleston seeing the best of the best. I can smell the jasmine now, unfortunately I’m still itching just from the thought of chiggers! As always, Debra, your photos take me to such lovely places, thank you.

Thank you, Sheila. Your comment was a great way to start MY day! — Debra

Dixie June 16, 2011, 2:08 am

Love the succulents as always! The anole’s cute too. Reminds me a bit of the orangy/brown geckos we get here. Most of them live in the house, and often fall prey to our cats. Sometimes you come across a tail or head of one. Anyway, lovely post. I have an aptenia with white flowers that have yellow centers. I haven’t figured out what it is yet. It’s not quite as pretty as that aptenia. Thanks for the virtual trip!

Hi, Dixie — I finally got around to planting the aptenia cuttings (several weeks after I returned home). Their tips were limp, so I cut them off and discarded them. But surprisingly, most of the leaves were still green and healthy-looking, so the stem cells (the growth points, where leaves attach to stems) should be fine. Fingers crossed! — Debra