Garden Coach Plant Profile on Azara MicrophyllaFebruary 19, 2009
When I’m garden coaching, consulting or doing a landscape design, I always strive to include year-round interest in the garden. Enter winning plants like the Box Leaf Azara (Azara microphylla).
So often we see fantastic gardens in Spring that look like a messy, ugly pile of dirt in mid-winter. In the Pacific Northwest there’s no excuse not to have something blooming to add visual interest, color, fragrance and food for wildlife all year. Whether its colored leaves, berries or blooms, our gardens can be fantastic year-round.
Azara microphylla is one of those special winter bloomers I adore and have pined for over the years. Not only is it evergreen, which adds interest during the most drab seasons, but it also blooms yellow in February and the blooms smell like chocolate. Sure, the blossoms are minute, but against dark green leaves and dusty-colored stems they pop. (And Azara is also available in variegated forms in case your garden needs some bright evergreen color!) But, really, it’s the fragrance that catches your attention first.
Last year I was thrilled to find one of my suppliers had resourced about a dozen tree-form Azaras. Generally, we find these for sale in 1-3 gallon containers. They’re a bit straggly to start and often slow to really get going. When I saw this treasure-trove, I dipped deep in the coffers to snatch one up. Heck, my garden wasn’t even ready for it, but I dove in anyway. It took this small selection of trees a long time to grow this big, and I had to pay a bit more to cover the cost the grower incurred bringing this fantastic tree to my garden.
That’s a lesson in itself — some bigger plants cost more and are worth it because it will take you years to mature one yourself. Other plants grow incredibly fast and are a better bargain bought small. How do you know which is which? Well, hire a garden coach to help! But, also keep in mind that sometimes a special plant purchase opportunity comes along only once in a blue moon. When that happens, it’s worth hopping on the deal so long as you are capable of caring for the contained plant until finding just the right home for it. If you don’t you might run into a dry spell for a year, a season or many years during which that same special plant just isn’t available in the trade or isn’t available in the shape or size or at the price you dreamed of. Sometimes we design a planting plan in spring and have to wait until fall for certain forms, shapes or species to come into the nurseries. Gardening is a practice of growth and patience. In Azara’s case, a mature tree or even a small start is worth every penny — and every year you wait for it to come into its own!
Yesterday, I was walking past my Azara, which is positioned near a path, and the chocolatey-fragrance caught my attention. A tiny waft managed to get past the overwhelming perfume of nearby winter-blooming Sweetbox (aka Sarcococca), and I was charmed. This is the tree’s first winter in my garden, and it has blessed the space with its lovely yellow lights and candy charm. I’m smitten!
Interested in learning more about this great plant? Check out the Great Plant Picks page here. Want to see a mature Azara in action? Visit the Center for Urban Horticulture; a fantastic specimen is growing in the gardens near the library and seminar rooms.