Jasminum nudiflorum: winter jasmine
Most plants when translated from their native habitat into gardens adapt quite nicely. Some run riot, others curl up and die, whilst a few just don’t fit in. One such oddball, in my humble opinion, is the winter jasmine, Jasminum nudiflorum. Gardeners put up with this gawky, sprawling shrub for one reason and one reason only – its crop of yellow flowers borne at the dawn of the New Year. They are welcome and pleasing, yes, but the rest of the plant has about as much panache as a bundle of pick-up sticks.
A stroll along some of Broadstairs’ more salubrious streets illustrates householders’ vain attempts to tame or restrain this unruly beast. Some have their winter jasmine lashed tight to the wall next to their front door, as you might tether an unfortunate Stag to a lamppost. Others have it clipped into mean, threadbare little hedges, removing most of the flowering stems in doing so. Just occasionally one spots a plant that’s been allowed to do its thing, cascading down the back of a wall, or over a fence, producing a stiff fan of plain green stems, each well furnished with blossom. Unlike other jasmines and winter-flowering shrubs, the six-petalled flowers are devoid of perfume. One feels the least God could have done is furnish this ugly duckling with scent.
Jasminum nudiflorum is not a suitable plant for those gardeners I refer to as ‘choppers’; folk who like their plants to behave in accordance with their rules, rather than those of nature. It has a rambling, messy habit and is more a scrambler than a climber. One might justly argue that it’s gardeners, rather than the jasmine, who are fault, employing it in the wrong location for it to express its natural beauty. Jasminum nudiflorum is best suited to spots where it can march across the ground or cascade over a retaining wall with wild, bristly abandon. Best not to pretend it is ever going to look neat and presentable.
Apart from the obvious benefit of producing cheerful flowers when the garden is a murky sea of green and brown, Jasminum nudiflorum does have other advantages. Introduced from China in 1845 by Robert Fortune, it was initially considered a plant for the greenhouse (heaven forbid!) and is occasionally cultivated in bonsai form. In time, the winter jasmine turned out to be perfectly hardy and tolerant of poor growing conditions, including dry shade, impoverished soil and urban pollution. If nothing else, winter jasmine is a survivor, and if you are a hesitant gardener this is one plant you are unlikely to kill. Young plants are a staple of garden centres and can be purchased cheaply. Growing fast, Jasminum nudiflorum responds well to hard pruning in early spring, as soon as flowering has finished. Failure to do so leaves one with a thick, impenetrable haystack of a plant that can only be rejuvenated by cutting most of the stems down to about 18″ and letting them reshoot. Wandering stems will root where they come into contact with the ground, should one want more of the same. Given a choice I would far rather plant a winter-flowering clematis, a variegated ivy, a daphne, or almost anything else.
At this point you may judge that I have been a little harsh in my assessment of the winter jasmine, and I would love to hear from you if you have grown it beautifully. In fact I’d be thrilled to eat my hat. A classic combination is to plant winter jasmine against a wall with pale blue Iris unguicularis at its feet: the yellow flashes on the irises petals pick up the canary yellow of the jasmine at about the same time of year. A summer-flowering clematis might use the jasmine for support, but will need a cool, moist root-run. Less pleasing is the combination with red-berried cotoneaster or orange pyracantha, both common shrubs that are similarly butchered and mutilated in front gardens. It’s tough being a garden shrub, especially in January, so perhaps I should give winter jasmine the benefit of the doubt? TFG.