Goshiki Osmanthus

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First-year foliage of 'Goshiki' osmanthus is wild:  Yellow with green flecks and the occasional blush of pink.  Yellow and pink, all in the same square inch:  What other plants could possibly go with it?  See "Color combinations" and "Plant partners" below.

 

The mature foliage is calmer, at least by comparison:  just cream flecks on a green background.  And the shrub itself couldn't be more tidy, with dense mounding growth that doesn't need pruning.

 

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But it's the young foliage that's the puzzle.  Read on!

 

 

Here's how to grow this quirky broadleaf evergreen:


Latin Name

Osmanthus heterophyllus 'Goshiki'

Common Name

Goshiki Osmanthus

Family

Oleaceae, the Olive family.

What kind of plant is it?

Evergreen shrub.

Hardiness

Zones 6 (with some forethought and protection) - 9.

Habit

Dense, mounding, and full to the ground.

Rate of Growth

Slow.

Size in ten years

To three or four feet tall and about the same wide.  Ultimately to about six feet tall; usually not as wide as tall.

Texture

Fine-grained and full.  Internal branching isn't visible.  Much denser than taller cultivars, such as O. heterophylla 'Fastigiata'.

Grown for

its handsome foliage, which, indeed, is so holly-like.  The best way to tell Osmanthus and holly apart is to remember that Osmanthus leaves are opposite, i.e., in pairs, with each leaf directly opposite the other.  Holly —think English holly, Ilex aquifolium—has leaves that alternate up the stems.  Osmanthus : opposite / Ilex aquifolium : alternate.  In Zone 7 and souther, where Osmanthus is quick-growing and easy to establish, it is justifiably popular for evergreen hedges. 

 

'Goshiki' foliage is typical of a hardy osmanthus, in that it's much smaller (and, therefore, somehow, hardier) than the leaves of the more tender varieties, which can be as big as beech leaves.  It's prickly but not painful.  "Heterophyllus" means, in this case, that the leaves can vary a whole lot in how spiny and notched they are.  Now you know.  Young 'Goshiki' foliage is pale yellow, with only subtle flecks of green or occasional blushing of pink.  Mature foliage is dark green and heavily flecked with cream.

 

its squat and dense habit, which makes the bush appear well-groomed, but without the need for the actual grooming. 

 

the small but sweetly-fragrant flowers that, even better, are surprisingly "out of season," in the Fall.

Flowering season

Fall here in Rhode Island: October, when the last thing one might expect is fresh, sweet fragrance in the garden.

Color combinations

The cream-and-green variegation on mature foliage is neutral, and goes with anything.  The pink and yellow of the young shoots welcomes—but also needs—a nod or two from the surrounding plantings if it isn't to look a bit too clever.  Limit yourself to white, yellow, pink, or burgundy; even blue is too much diversity around those young leaves. 

 

Yellow and pink are often not congenial partners in themselves, and if you try to coordinate with both over more than one or two neighbors, the overall planting will be too colorful.  It's usually best to go pink-and-yellow only immediately by the shrub, if at all.  More widely, handle the complex coloring of the young foliage of 'Goshiki' only partially, either with neighbors that celebrate yellow but ignore pink, or vice versa.

Partner plants

The rigid and dense habit can be a strong partner to looser and to flexible growth, such as that of ornamental grasses and ferns, provided they're not so close that they could shade out the growth of 'Goshiki' on their side. 

 

The speckled variegation of the mature leaves is too busy to combine with color or pattern from variegation, be it in stripes or dots or sectors.  Instead, consider solid-color foliage.  This is possible only with yellow; there's no foliage, tender or hardy, whose pink is truly solid.  Partners with solid-yellow foliage include sun-tolerant yellow hostas, 'All Gold' hakonechloa, and the tree Robinia pseudoacacia 'Frisia', which is at its best when grown as a shrub by cutting it cut back severely in mid-Spring.

 

Color from yellow or pink flowers is more ephemeral, and therefore more flexible.  There are daylilies or iris to match every one of the hues of 'Goshiki' foliage, young as well as mature.  And the sword foliage of both perennials is a good textural contrast, too.  

 

A scandent partner is another opportunity for added color and texture both, provided that its growth isn't so lengthy or thick that the shrub would look swamped.  Perhaps one of the herbaceous clematis.  They're non-vining, and lean (or flop) instead of twining.  The usual Clematis recta 'Purpurea' is the right coloring all around—white flowers and purple foliage—but it gets much too tall.  Don't introduce it before your 'Goshiki' is fifteen or twenty years old.  Clematis addisonii could be perfect; it grows only a foot or two and its flowers can be rosy on the outside and pale yellow on the inside, just the palette of the young foliage of 'Goshiki'.  The species is variable; some suppliers show the flowers as blue with a cream interior.  C. reticulata is a small climber with similar potential as well as variability.  Both of these clematis are native to eastern North America, but only rarely seen in gardens here.  (I need to get with the program, too!)  It would be great to encounter them more often.  For more possibilities with native herbaceous clematis, all of whose flowers would associate well with 'Goshiki', visit the "American Bells" website. 

Where to use it in your garden

'Goshiki' is a natural front-of-the-bed shrub, because its foliage is full to the ground.  This is a shrub that has no bad angle.

Culture

Easy where it's fully hardy.  Full sun to part shade in average to rich soil with good drainage in the Winter.  At the cold end of the hardiness range—the bottom of Zone 7 down into Zone 6—the site needs to be more advantageously sheltered from Winter wind.  Full sun is better up North, too, which helps each season's growth to ripen as much as possible in Summer and Fall, which, in turn, helps it better withstand the stresses of the coming Winter.  Afternoon shade or dappled sun is better in warmer climates, where the foliage can bleach.  Larger individuals are hardier than youngsters, so buy the biggest you can.

How to handle it

Osmanthus are serviceable "foundation" shrubs in Zones 7 - 9; just plant and then, because you inevitably didn't allow enough room, prune.  Osmanthus accept pruning well, too, so make great hedges. 

 

Although 'Goshiki' is one of the hardiest cultivars, from Zone 7 into Zone 6, any holly osmanthus is somewhat of an achievement, and needs planting (see Culture, above) in focal locations so that you and your garden visitors can be justly proud.  It's a help, as well, to locate the bush fairly near a pathway (but still with helpful shelter of neighboring structures, fences, or evergreens) so everyone can get their noses right up to the flowers, which are so small (again, like holly) that only their powerful fragrance announces their presence from any distance.  Siting near a pathway also helps everyone realize that this isn't, after all, just another upright holly, of which there are a number (i.e., the I. meservae cultivars) that are much hardier, more popular, and, therefore, proportionately less interesting.

 

It's worth it to spray such "focal" osmanthus with anti-dessicant in the Fall, so they look all the better in May despite the trials of January through March.  On the other hand, by the time the flowers happen in Fall, the bushes will have (here's hoping) long-since recovered from the previous Winter's tip die-back and burned foliage. 

How to handle it: Another option—or two?

None.

Downsides

If only 'Goshiki' were a bit hardier.

Variants

Ah, the osmanthus.  So many to yearn for, not least because so many species aren't hardy at all below Zone 7.  South of the Potomac River, osmanthus are increasingly popular, i.e., not "Uncommon & Astonishing" at all.  But East of the Hudson River?  Notable, indeed.   

 

O. heterophyllus is the hardiest species, but there's a clutch of desirables even there.  Far as I can tell, 'Ogon' is the same as 'Aureus'; ogon is Japanese for gold.  The young foliage of 'Purpureus' is so dark and shiny it seems dipped in tar; I'm still trying to establish it.  'Gulftide' is green-leaved but reputedly hardier than the species; you can't prove it by me, though.  'Nana' is green-leaved but compact; each of my trio of nanas is threatening to top two feet, but only just.  'Fastigiata' is loose and upright; it and 'Nana' both seem fully hardy in Zone 6.  'Sasaba' has small, deeply-incised green leaves that, unlike the rest of the "holly" osmanthus, are armed with spines so rigid and sharp they are guaranteed to draw blood.  Of course, I must have it.

Availability

On-line.

Propagation

Cuttings and grafting.

Native habitat

Eastern Asia and Southern Japan

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