Flowering shrubs are one of the great joys of a garden. They are often the very reason we garden – to enjoy the beauty of flowers, with all their colors and scents. Flowering shrubs are in many ways superior to annual flowers, because they grow larger and give structure and form to the garden even when not flowering. They are also permanent, and improve as they grow older. One of the more beautiful flowering shrubs is the Virginal Mock Orange. This medium-sized shrub is covered in clusters of large, pure-white flowers in late spring, as the new leaves are emerging. These are not only beautiful, they are also deliciously fragrant, with a scent reminiscent of orange blossom, which is why they are called ‘mock’ orange. The plant grows to between 6 and 9 feet tall, with long, arching branches. Some simple pruning is needed each year to keep this plant at its best, but that pleasant chore is well-rewarded by the beauty and perfume of the flowers.
This is a traditional shrub, very suited to older gardens, but also a great addition to new ones too. It can be used successfully in a variety of ways. Plant it behind shorter, later-flowering plants as a background. Place it in an awkward corner to fill it with something beautiful. Plant a row as an informal screen along your property border, or between one part of the garden and another. One different and exceptional use for this shrub is as an espalier – that is, trained and tied to a wall or fence. Grown in this way it takes up no room in the garden, yet gives you a wonderful display, and the long, flexible branches make it easy to do.
It is usually in May or early June that the Virginal Mock Orange is in bloom. From the joints on the older stems clusters of flowers emerge. Each cluster typically has 5 to 7 flowers in it, and each flower is 2 inches across, pure-white in color, with many petals forming a beautiful full, rounded flower. These give off a lovely perfume that can be smelled several yards away. The stems themselves are long and flexible, covered in a soft, slightly peeling gray-brown bark. The leaves are green, oval in shape and 2 or 3 inches long.
The Virginal Mock Orange is an easy plant to make happy. It will grow well in both full sun and partial shade, either continuous light shade, or shade for part of the day. It grows well in almost any kind of soil, except for ones that are constantly wet. It has no significant pests or diseases and it is easy to grow, with minimal care from you. It is also very hardy, growing well in areas with winter temperatures down to minus 30 degrees, with no damage to the buds or stems. This makes it very useful if you live in a cold area, where the choice of plants can be limited. These kinds of easy to grow plants are an essential part of every garden, as very few of us have time for a garden full of plants that need a lot of attention.
The Virginal Mock Orange has been grown in gardens for over 100 years, and remains very popular. Only the best plants last this long, so you will not be disappointed with this beautiful shrub in your garden. It has an interesting history. The famous French plant breeder Victor Lemoine had gardens and a nursery in the town of Nancy, France. He grew several wild species of mock orange, and in 1883 he received some plants of a small, sweetly-scented species called Philadelphus microphyllus. This is an American species, from Colorado and Arizona. He crossed this plant with the tall European species, Philadelphus coronarius. He produced several attractive hybrids, some of which are still grown in gardens. He then went on the cross some of these hybrids with other hybrids he had produced, especially one particular plant with unusual double flowers. The result of his work included a plant still considered to be the very best of the double-flowered mock orange shrubs – the Virginal Mock Orange. Lemoine released this plant through his nursery in 1911.
This plant is also often called Philadelphus x virginalis. The ‘x’ indicates that the plant is a hybrid. It is obvious from this description that seedling plants may be cheaper, but they will certainly have no resemblance at all to this complex plant, the product of skill, years of work and some luck, a century ago.
It is easy to prune your Virginal Mock Orange to keep it neat and encourage lots of flowering. Do this immediately after the flowers fade, as next year’s flowers will be formed on the new shoots produced after you prune. Cut out all the branches that have flowered, back to the main, older stems. Look out for new shoots which form lower down on those shoots that have flowered, and cut back to that new growth. Shorten by about 1/3 any stems that have not flowered, and remove completely one or two of the oldest stems. Your plant should be very open and just have a few main branches left when you are finished. Quickly the new stems will shoot up, and if you are growing this shrub on a wall, the flexible stems are easily tied in to keep all the growth flat and spread across the wall.
The Virginal Mock Orange is a beautiful flowering shrub that has a place in every garden, especially in colder areas. Its rich perfume will fill the air in that glorious season of spring, and we know that this perennial favorite will be quickly sold. So, you should order now, while stocks last, to enjoy the beauty of a garden classic in your own garden.