Garden views: Enjoy surprise with tea olives

Wanting a fragrant landscape is a good objective. With tea olives in your landscape, you'll realize you don't have their fragrance, their fragrance has you.

The small, ivory flowers, born in clusters, are not visually showy. Fragrance is their occupation.

The charts in "A Southern Garden" (University of North Carolina Press, $18.95) by Elizabeth Lawrence indicate the earliest first bloom of tea olive, Osmanthus fragrans, is Sept. 1 and the latest date of first bloom is Sept. 24. Blooming continues through March.

Lawrence, a Southerner, lived from 1904 to 1985. She wrote several gardening books, and "A Southern Garden" continues to be the best book about gardening in the South today. Technology and lifestyles have changed greatly since she wrote the book in 1941, but plants have not changed. Tea olives continue to bloom according to their own mysterious agenda.

We bring out-of-season fruits and vegetables into our homes year-round, accepting that as normal, but wanting or expecting a tea olive in our landscape to begin blooming at a set time is not an option. You are assured of being surprised, and delightfully stunned, each year when your tea olive begins to bloom.

Tea olives are evergreen shrubs growing up to 15 feet tall in metro Atlanta and 20 feet closer to the coast. Plant them in full or partial sun. Their leaves may have a few tiny spines on the margins or none.

You can keep a tea olive foliated from top to bottom or remove foliage from the bottom, creating a small tree. Foliage may be burned by late frosts or zero-degree temperatures, but do not let either be a concern when planting a tea olive in your life.

On random warm days during winter, open a window slightly and let the fragrance of tea olive scent your rooms. It doesn't take much imagination to realize placing a garden bench near a tea olive is good landscape design. Or is that landscape designing our interior happiness? It doesn't matter; both are important.

The warm winter afternoons that include having an impromptu lunch outside near your blooming tea olive won't soon be forgotten. Is it being gracious or showing off to invite a friend to lunch with you near your tea olive?

These plants evolved elaborate flowers to help them with sex. During winter, it's not unusual to see butterflies and honeybees attracted to the blooming tea olive. Sourwood honey is common in Georgia, but imagine discovering a beehive full of tea olive honey.

To paraphrase the Chinese proverb, "He who plants a tea olive, plants happiness."

Stone Mountain resident Tara Dillard designs, installs and writes about gardens.

E-mail her at taradillard@

agardenview.biz or visit www.agardenview.biz.