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Garden Journal

Grow the most fragrant blooms in the garden

By Paul Barbano | Oct 23, 2013
Allspice is the fruit of the Pimenta dioica plant.

One magic spice in the New World seemed to combine the flavor of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves, so in English we call it "allspice." Allspice is the fruit of the Pimenta dioica plant. Because the fruits look like large brown peppercorns most of the world knows it as Jamaican Pepper or Pimento. Allspice is used in Caribbean jerk seasoning, pickles, sausages and curry powders. Allspice is found in Middle Eastern cuisine, Indian cuisine and throughout Europe. We Americans are most familiar with allspice as a homey warm spice in cakes, cookies and all sorts of baked goods but allspice also lends a deep earthy taste to certain stews and chili.

So with all its uses you would think someone would have planted Allspice all over the world. Brazilian rubber trees now flourish in southeast Asia, and all American apple trees go back to trees native to central Asia, but all attempts to grow the Allspice tree in other parts of the world have failed. Sometimes it is best to stay with the trees that have over years adapted to your unique micro climate, soil and sunlight. Natives do better. The 1950 song by M. L. PAICH kind of said it all: "The natives are restless tonight."

You can grow a native plant that isn't restless and isn't allspice, but smells just like it. The Calycanthus, better known as Sweetshrub or Carolina Allspice, is native to North America. Carolina Allspice, the name kind of says it all, bursts into bloom in early spring with dark maroon red blooms having the most powerful, lingering and delightful aroma of allspice. There are a few who say it smells more like bubble gum. The scent is so strong that many quality perfumes use Calycanthus essential oil, distilled from the flowers. Even the bark has a strong camphor aroma that it releases whenever the stems get scraped. The flowers last three to four weeks before fading into seed filled fruits.

Like any good guest from the Carolinas, the native Sweetshrub is easy to care for. It will fit into most yards because it stays fairly trim at just six to eight feet tall. The four to six-inch long broad leaves are disease and pest free. Sweethearts are are deciduous shrubs so they drop their leaves every fall.

They are ideal in a shrub border, as an edge alongside woodland, or just plant them alone or groups of three in a circle as a specimen plant. You can plant sweetshrub along garden paths, next to entryways and porches to enjoy the fragrance.

Sweetshrub does best in full sun, but tolerates light shade, especially in warm climates. Trees grow in light shade will stretch taller than trees in full sun. Always water Sweetshrub trees thoroughly if you go more than a week without rain during the warmer weather.

When you grow up someplace you usually know how to get by and sweetshrub is very tolerant of just about any soil pH but best from 6.1 to 7.5. Of course best results are with fertile, rich in organic matter such as humus,

The sweetshrub leaves turn golden yellow every autumn. They are cold hardy to well below zero.

There are several named varieties of sweetshrub including Aphrodite with strawberry-scented blossoms against vibrant green leaves. Aphrodite is a heavy rebloomer whose four-inch blooms are the largest flowers of any sweetshrub.

Athens has distinctive yellow flowers with the same deep fragrance of all Sweetshrub. Athens will sometimes rebloom into mid-summer. Michael Lindsey has fragrant brownish red blooms on a dense, compact and rounded shrub that can reach 10 feet tall. Michael Lindsey is possibly the best red-flowered Sweetshrub.

Whether you call it Sweetshrub or best of all, the Carolina Allspice plant Calycanthus, and you will have a trouble-free native plant with possibly the most fragrant blooms in the garden. With luck some will restlessly bloom into the summer. The natives are restless indeed.

 

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