Louis Raymond experiments in his own gardens like

a mad scientist, searching out plants that most people have

never seen before & figuring out how to make them perform.- The Boston Globe

…Louis Raymond ensures that trees can grow in Brooklyn…

or just about any other place where concrete consumes

the dirt and skyscrapers shield the sunshine.- USA Today

 
 

NEW Trips to Take!

Myrtle's easy when the conditions are right.

 
 
 
 

NEW Plants to Try!

Louis tries to capture the exact words to describe the fleeting but deep pleasures to be found in these Summer-into-Autumn incredibles.

 
 
 
 

New Gardening to Do!

Allergic to bees? You can still have an exciting garden, full of flowers and color and wildlife.

 
 
 
 

Plant Profiles

Gold-leaved Holly Osmanthus

osmanthus-heterophyllus-aureus-640

 

Ah, my gold-leaved osmanthus.  The whole bush is so slow-growing and so small, it's almost better to photograph it in close-up.  Then, maybe, you'll think there's a whole lot of more it, but just out of frame.

 

Everything happens in slo-mo with this bush.  Even the leaves take a few years to fully accept that, as adult foliage, they need to be all green.  And about the time they've figured that out, they're old enough to be shed.  Leaf-by-leaf, then, the life story's a bit grim: Gorgeous, then glowing, then still a-glow, then just remembering the good old days of the glow, then hardly recalling there was ever any glow—and then, on the ground, brown and forgotten.  Whoa.

 

osmanthus-heterophyllus-aureus-foliage-640

 

But overall, the bush puts on the happy face.  Three years on, and I've still got it in a pot for fear it isn't old enough and tough enough to survive the Winter.  See 'Culture' below.

 

osmanthus-heterophyllus-aureus-overall-640

 

Another two or three years?  I'll worry then about risking the whole plant by planting it in the garden.

 

 

Here's how to grow this glowing evergreen rarity:

Latin Name

Osmanthus heterophyllus 'Ogon'

Common Name

Gold-leaved Holly Osmanthus

Family

Oleaceae, the Olive family.

What kind of plant is it?

Evergreen shrub.

Hardiness

Zones 6 (with some forethought and protection) - 9.

Habit

Densely-foliaged and mounding shrub.

Rate of Growth

Slow.  Really slow.

Size in ten years

Size is dependant on the mildness of the climate and how the plant is sited.  In Zone 7 and up, 'Ogon' can grow (slowly) to five feet tall and three to five across.  For me, a plant over two feet tall, ever, would be a thrill.

Texture

Dense and rigid; a mound when young, eventually taller than wide.

Grown for

the handsome foliage that, indeed, is so holly-like.   The best way to tell osmanthus and holly apart is to remember that osmanthus leaves are opposite, i.e., in pairs with each leaf directly opposite the other.  Holly—think English holly, Ilex aquifolium—has leaves that alternate up the stems.  Osmanthus : opposite / Ilex aquifolium : alternate.  In Zone 7 and Souther, where osmanthus are quick-growing and easy to establish, they're justifiably popular for evergreen hedges.  The foliage of 'Ogon' is butter yellow when young, albeit with the briefest flirtation with pink when it's nascent.  It only reluctantly darkens to all-green, taking a year and more for the full transition.  "Heterophyllus" means, in this case, that the leaves can vary a whole lot in how spiny and notched they are.  Now you know. 

 

the small but sweetly-fragrant flowers that, even better, are surprisingly "out of season," in the Fall.

Flowering season

Fall here in Rhode Island: October, when the last thing one might expect is fresh, sweet fragrance in the garden.

Culture

Easy where it's fully hardy!  Full sun to part shade in average to rich soil with good drainage in the Winter.  At the cold end of the hardiness range—the bottom of Zone 7 down into Zone 6—the siting needs to be more advantageously sheltered from Winter wind.  Full sun is better up North, too, which helps each season's growth to ripen as much as possible in Summer and Fall, which, in turn, helps it better withstand the stresses of the coming Winter.  Larger individuals are hardier than youngsters, so buy the biggest you can.

How to handle it

Osmanthi are servicable "foundation" shrubs in Zones 7 - 9; just plant and then, because you inevitably didn't allow enough room, prune.  Osmanthi accept pruning well, so make great hedges. 

 

Zone 7 into Zone 6, any holly osmanthus is somewhat of an achievement, and needs prime siting (see Culture, above) in focal locations so that you and your garden visitors can be justly proud.  It's a help, as well, to site fairly near a pathway (but still with helpful shelter of neighboring structures, fences, or evergreens) so everyone can get their noses right up to the flowers, which are so small (again, like holly) that only their powerful fragrance announces their presence from any distance.  (True holly flowers, though, aren't noticeably fragrant; they're also in Spring, not Fall.) 

 

It's worth it to spray such "focal" osmanthi with anti-dessicant in the Fall, so they look all the better in May despite the trials of January through March.  On the other hand, by the time the flowers happen in Fall, the bushes will have (here's hoping) long recovered from the previous Winter's tip die-back and burned foliage. 

 

If you grow it in a pot, you'll need to give it a bit of shelter over the Winter, which is, presumably, why you're growing it in a pot in the first place.  This plant isn't even truly subtropical, let alone tropical, though: It wants some chill, even light frosts.  The ideal would be an unheated greenhouse, with the pot sunk into the ground.  Failing that, a bright window in the coldest room in your house, right up against the glass.  Water it only when it really needs it.  (You think this plant is slow-moving when it's at the height of its warm-weather growth spurt?  Ha!  It might need watering only once a month in a Winter room that doesn't get out of the 40's even during the day.)  

Downsides

If only they were a bit hardier.

Variants

Ah, the osmanthi.  So many to yearn for, not least because so many species aren't hardy at all below Zone 7.  South of the Potomac River, osmanthi are increasingly popular, i.e., not "Uncommon & Astonishing" at all.  But East of the Hudson River?  Notable, indeed.   

 

Osmanthus americanus is the hardiest species by far, with success reported even in Zone 5; there can never be too many hardy broadleaved evergreens in Zone 6 and colder, so the species is desirable on that basis alone. (Plus, there are its fragrant flowers.) I'm not aware of any O. americanus cultivars. O. heterophyllus is the second hardiest species, but there's a clutch of desirable forms.  Far as I can tell, 'Ogon' is the same as 'Aureus'; ogon is Japanese for gold.  'Goshiki' has speckled foliage that, when young, is somewhat pinkish, too; it seems fully hardy in Zone 6.  'Fastigiata' has green leaves but is distinctly (if broadly) upright; it too seems reliably Zone 6.  The young foliage of 'Purpureus' is so dark and shiny it seems dipped in tar; I'm still trying to establish it.  'Gulftide' is green-leaved but reputedly hardier than the species; you can't prove it by me, though.  'Nana' is green-leaved but compact; my trio of nanas are threatening—but only just—to top two feet; it seems fully hardy in Zone 6.  'Sasaba' has small, deeply-incised green leaves that, unlike the rest of the "holly" osmanthi, are armed with spines so rigid and sharp they are guaranteed to draw blood.  Of course, I must have it.

Availability

On-line.

Propagation

Cuttings and grafting.

Native habitat

Eastern Asia and Southern Japan

 
 
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