A Gardening Journal

Gold-leaved Jasmine

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With ferny leaves that are bright gold all season, Jasminum officinale 'Fiona Sunrise' is the best vine for color.  Oh yes: fragrant flowers, too.

 

The coloring is unusually consistent.  This plant isn't variegated at all.  It's solid gold. 

 

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Even the young stems. 

 

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Adolescent stems are green, providing a subtler show through their first Winter and into their second season. 

 

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Older stems, though, have boring brown bark, and tend toward awkward twigginess.  Notice them at the base of the green stems in the picture above.  In "How to handle it," I suggest strategies for keeping gold-leaved jasmine as bright and stylish as possible.

 

 

Here's how to grow this glorious jasmine:


Latin name

Jasminum officinale 'Fiona Sunrise'

Common name

Gold-leaved Jasmine

Family

Oleaceae, the Olive family.

What kind of plant is it?

Twining woody vine that is evergreen in Zones 9 and 10, semi-evergreen in Zone 8 and deciduous in Zone 7.

Hardiness

Solidly hardy in Zones 7 - 10; occasionally hardy in Zone 6; see "How to handle it" for suggestions for enhancing hardiness.

Habit

Twining, multi-stemmed, opportunistic.  Jasminum officinale can climb through shrubs and up into small trees.

Rate of growth

Fast.

Size in ten years

If uncontrolled, a colony exploring outward and upward to thirty feet. 

Texture

Dense and ferny: the foliage is small, with leaflets in sevens. 

Grown for

its iconically-fragrant white flowers.  The fragrance of jasmine has been in the first-rank of perfumes for millenia.  "Jasmin" derives from the Persian "yasmin," meaning "gift from God."

 

its pleasantly ferny green foliage, which emerges with a blush of red in the Spring but quickly changes to a vivid solid yellow that is held well into Fall frosts.

 

its vigor.  The twining stems can grow ten feet a season.  'Fiona Sunrise' can provide quick coverage in climates where it isn't killed back each Winter.

 

being deer-proof, at least in my experience. 

Flowering season

In mild climates where the vine has no Winter die-back, Spring through Fall, although if Summer nights are hot, flowering will subside pending the return of cool nights in the Fall.  In Zone 7 and 8, and as a container plant, flowering doesn't usually begin until Summer, but can extend into Fall.

Color combinations


The white flowers of 'Fiona Sunrise' go with anything; it's the striking gold foliage that inspires the choices of the hue and saturation of colors of neighboring plants.

 

Near-neighbor hues of yellow and gold are likely to seem either repetitious or competitive, so embrace contrasts.  Dark colors are, so to speak, golden: Dark green, burgundy, and the few plants with truly black foliage, such as some cultivars of Colocasia

 

In addition to the dark colors above, blue is a natural in any shade from palest sky blue to indigo, whether of flower, fruit, or foliage.  Red is also a possibility, and not least because of the red blush to the Spring foliage.  It's not unusual for red-petaled flowers to have a prominent boss of yellow stamens, which is all the showier for being backed by the comparative dark of the red petals.  In this regard, life isn't complete unless you've been able to introduce 'Fiona Sunrise' jasmine to an 'Altissimo' rose.  It's on my own to-do list.

Partner plants


'Fiona Sunrise' is unique among jasmines, in that its fragrant flowers are the least of its gifts, not its raison d'être.  Partner plants are riffing with the foliage of 'Fiona'—and, primarily, by way of their foliage.  The pairing with the flowers of 'Altissimo' rose is, by far, the exception. 

 

Magnolia grandiflora is one all-green option.  Its enormous, deep green, shiny, and smooth-edged leaves provide comprehensive contrast.  If your climate (or your greenhouse) permits, why not let 'Fiona' colonise the trunk of a fan-palm, or festoon a colony of needle palm or saw palmetto?  The enormous green foliage of any palm would be a stark rival to the ferny yellow growth of 'Fiona'.  Purple smokebush, Cotinus coggygria 'Velvet Cloak', or its tropical imitator, Euphorbia cotinifolia, would be as exciting—as would any of the purple-leaved cultivars of New Zealand flax, Phormium tenax.  For contrast with both blue and purple, let 'Fiona' mingle with a lemon bush, Corymbia citriodora, that you keep pruned as a shrub or a standard.

 

'Fiona Sunrise' grows fast, and is therefore relatively inexpensive when purchased as small plants.  So go ahead, use it as an annual.  Combine with dark-leaved coleus, or let it fluff and flounce around the base of soaring purple stems of 'Intrigue' or 'Wyoming' cannas.  

Where to use it in your garden

It's probably wise to locate the plant where people can easily smell the flowers—it's a jasmine, after all!  If you don't put the vine towards the front, people will try to walk into your bed, tromping who-knows-what along the way, in their effort to smell it.

Culture

Any regular  soil.  Full sun and great drainage will help hardiness at the cold end of its range.  Handles full sun throughout its range.  Where solidly hardy—in Zone 7 and warmer—J. officinale grows well in semi-shade, too, although flowering is reduced.  Needs cool night-time temperatures in Winter—below 60 F, and, ideally, sometimes all the way into the 20s—to spur flowerbud formation the following Spring, Summer, and Fall.  Cool nights and hot days year-round would be this jasmine's idea of heaven.  Mine, too. 

How to handle it: The Basics

Plant in Spring, except in Zones 9 and 10, when the vine can be planted any time that it can receive sufficient water to establish. 

 

'Fiona Sunrise' is a twiner from the get-go, and she gets going quickly.  Be prepared with a host structure or plant.  Will the vine climb up a trellis?  Wires permanently affixed to a wall or fence?  Will it scramble through a bulky shrub?  Will you guide it up the trunk of a small tree, so it can twine away the rest of its life through the tree's canopy? 

 

'Fiona' is quick enough to use as a warm-weather ephemeral, planted as a cutting-grown youngster in a container of annuals.  Unless the annuals themselves are tall and sturdy, such as the Euphorbia cotinifolia, or cultivars of Canna or Phornium tenax, you'll still need to provide support for the twining growth.  Use thin bamboo canes that are have been colored green; the natural tan of uncolored ones clashes with the gold of the jasmine.  Or, if the rest of the plantings in the container are more muted, spray the bamboo poles an in-your-face contrast color: Acid-pink, neon-purple, traffic-cone orange, swimming-pool aqua.  Spray all the poles the same color; even gleeful tastelessness needs limits.

 

Flowering is on new growth, so don't hesitate to prune out the old.  Cool nights of Fall can stimulate renewed flowering, so wait until that has ceased.  That is also the time past which new growth is likely to sprout, and suffer dieback in the imminent cold of Winter.  In Zone 7 and, of course, in "Zone denial" locations in Zone 6, some degree of Winter dieback is to be expected.  The vine will need grooming in Spring to remove it.  Jasmines resprout readily, so never hesitate to remove more growth than you'd planned. 

 

Especially in mild climates, free-range colonies will eventually get too large, or become too much of a twiggy mess.  Jasmines are a twiggy tribe.  Further, only forsythia and raspberries can rival jasmine's ability to take root wherever a stem touches the ground.  The resultant new shoots have the vigor and outward-bound aspirations of the original plant—which means that the colony will spread with unimpaired vigor unless an external force provides boundaries.  Jasmine-stoppers include deep shade, open water or boggy ground, paving, or building construction so smooth and seamless that the tendrils can't get a purchase.  If none of the above at at hand, then you must provide control.  A Spring massacre is almost always a great idea.

How to handle it: Another option—or two?

Jasmine can be almost too much of a good thing where it's solidly hardy—but almost no tactic is too much work where it's not.  If you have easy Winter storage, growing the vine in a container is perhaps the easiest.  Let the vines experience light frost, then prune the stems back hard, so you'll be bringing a more compact plant into shelter.  If you have the sunny space, by all means let the vine enjoy it even if it appears dormant.  Winter chill is a good thing for this jasmine, so you can move the pot right up to pane of the window, or to colder outer margins of your greenhouse.  You can even overwinter a potted jasmine that's dropped its leaves in a cool basement.  Leave the light on; the vine will resume growth more readily in the Spring than if you overwinter in a cool but dark basement.  Water if the container seems particularly dry, but J. officinale is fairly drought-tolerant when dormant. 

 

Bring the pot into greater warmth and light whenever convenient in late Winter or Spring.  Water and fertilize—and reconsider whether you can prune old growth back even more.  New stems will sprout quickly.  

 

Jasminum officinale is naturally deciduous, so it's a plausible experiment for Zone 6 gardeners.  Plant in full sun, in a spot where drainage in Winter is excellent.  If you can site the vine under an eave, where it's in a rain (and snow) "shadow", so much the better.  After the vine has received substantial frost and has shed its leaves to enter dormancy, mulch heavily. 

 

Although jasmines resprout easily, it's tempting to help top growth survive.  Growing the vine up a simple (and single) vertical pole should make it easier either to shimmy the coiling stems downward and, possibly, bury them under the mulch, too—or, leaving them in place, twining up the pole, to wrap the whole vine with a couple of layers of wind-baffle fabric.  Truly heroic overwinterers will first wrap the pole with a few strands of outdoor fairy lights, which will provide a few degrees of economical warmth beneath the wind-baffle fabric, while also creating an obelisk of cheery light during the short-day months.  

 

You can achieve some of the same wind-baffling effect by growing the vine up into dense evergreens that are full to the ground.  Plant on the sheltered side of the evergreen, between it and, say, a house wall.  Train a few stems along the ground for the first year or two, so they root and provide that much more opportunity for ground-level resprouting in case the top growth gets winterkilled.  And then let new growth climb up into the evergreen.  Try to guide a few of those stems deep into the interior, where the wind-baffling benefit is the maximum.  Their first-year growth will extend out into gracious view, but these woody older stems will remain safely overwinterable in the evergreen's interior, to send out new growth the following Spring.

Quirks or special cases

In mild climates—or when growing Jasminum officinale in a container that will be moved into shelter—you can take advantage of the vine's quick twining growth and ease of resprouting to grow stems up a cone of thin stakes.  Let stems twine to the top of the poles, and prune off growth that tries to outgrow them.  Either poke wandering side growth into the interior of the cone or prune it off.  Prune as severely as needed after flowering has ceased in the Fall, so that you recapture the sharp outline of the cone. 

 

If your jasmine cone is potted and will be overwintered dormant, you could cut the stems to six inches in the Fall and remove the stakes entirely.  If it's practical (or at least tolerable) to move the plant into shelter while it's in "full cone," keep the stakes in place, with the old stems twined up them, in hopes of quicker and fuller coverage with new growth the following Spring.     

Downsides

If only it were hardier.  In Zone 7, the enthusiasm of J. officinale doesn't veer into excess.  In Zone 8 and 9, one could complain that the shrub would take over without some ruthless pruning—the way we in Zone 6 moan about Jasminum nudiflorum.

Variants

 Although there are dozens of jasmine species and hybrids, after countless centuries in cultivars, surprisingly few cultivars specifically of J. officinale have been identified.  The foliage of 'Argenteo-variegata' is heavily margined in cream and white, and much of the central green portion of each leaf can be grey-green.  That of 'Aureovariegata' is splashed and freckled with gold; to my eye, not nearly as satisfying a pattern.  The flowers of 'Clotted Cream' are, indeed, just such a color, not the pure white of the species; the foliage is the usual green.  The flowers of 'Flore Pleno' are double; those of 'Grandiflorum' are somewhat larger, but not so much that the casual observer is likely to notice.  'Argenteo-variegata' is on my wish-list. 

 

The straight species is also worth growing, but if space allows only a limited amount of J. officinale, pick one of the variegated cultivars.  None of the cultivars are hardier than the Zone 7 of the species.

Availability

On-line and, sometimes, at retailers.

Propagation

Cuttings and layering.

Native habitat

Jasminum officinale is native to Asia, although because it has been in cultivation for millenia, the more specific location is in dispute.  China?  Central Asia?  Sources differ.  'Fiona Sunrise' originated in England.

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