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Garden Coach Plant Profile on Azara Microphylla

February 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.

Tiny Chocolately Yellow Flowers on Azara Stem

Tiny Chocolately Yellow Flowers on Azara Stem

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.

Azara will Mature to Provide Evergreen Privacy

Azara will Mature to Provide Evergreen Privacy

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.

21 Comments

  1. Katy says:

    Also more in the winter garden at the Washington Park Arboretum (it’s called something else now but can’t remember what …). They are about 30 feet tall!!

  2. rhaglund says:

    See folks…don’t always believe what you read on a tag or in a book about a plant. Most books and even the Great Plant Picks list reports this tree tops out at 15′!

  3. Joe Lamp'l says:

    Good thing I’m *flying* home next week rather than driving. Otherwise you might discover that wonderful gem missing from your garden after our departure from filming there on Tuesday. Well, even if the rain or snow messes with our day, Azara microphylla is going to make it brighter. Can’t wait to see…and smell.

  4. rhaglund says:

    Just please don’t slip on the patio if its frosty out & your head’s in the chocolatey clouds!

  5. ken and carol gallagher says:

    We purchased one today in a 2 gal pot for an an amazing price of $25.00. It looks like it would make an excellent bonsai specimen. Has anyone seen them used that way?

  6. I haven’t seen them bonsai’d. They may work well for this. They tend to open up on the interior but grow much more vertically than horizontally. Still, give it a shot. Should be a fun project!

  7. turquoisegrecd says:

    Are the yellow flowers of the azara microphylla edible and can they be used to do tinctures? Thanks. Turquoisegrece

  8. Turquoisegrecd: I don’t know if Azara is edible. Perhaps try contacting an herbalist to learn more.

  9. Badger says:

    Katy, I think you may be thinking of the Northofagus that are growing in the Washington Park arboretum… The look INCREDIBLY similar, but the Northofagus (‘antarctica’, I believe) grow a bit taller in this zone, and don’t have the fragrant blooms of the Azara. They are INCREDIBLY handsome and charming trees, though.

  10. Badger says:

    sorry, I meant to type nothofagus, not “northofagus”

  11. Badger, heads up: there are some huge Azara in the winter garden at the arboretum. Check’m out in the winter garden!

  12. ken and carol gallagher says:

    I gave the 2 gal to my son in law who is more into bonsai than I am. He is determined to make a go of it as a bonsai. I subsequently purchased a 1 gal and planted it into the ground early this summer. It was about two feet tall and as of now, (late Dec.) it has grown about an extra foot and tightened up nicely. Have any of you tried taking cuttings of the green macrophylla variety? It looks as if this will have lots of potential cuttings to experiment with.

  13. Ken and Carol,

    I can’t wait to hear more about your son-in-law’s bonsai as it develops! I haven’t taken propagation cuttings from Azara. They do put on quite a bit of growth each season once they get going, so I agree that you should have a lot to work with. Keep in touch & let us know how your Azara garden continues to grow!

  14. Sheila Ben says:

    I have had an Azara growing in my Northamptonshire England for about 7 years on west facing fence the garden is in sun most of the day in summer excellent flowers for 5 years but 2 years ago in autumn it developed a black wilt on the leaves. I removed all traces of wilt on plant and on ground.
    A garden expert! said it was because we had had such a dry summer, to feed it with seaweed solution which I did, it appeared to recove, last summer was one of the wettest on record in this region, still the problem came back it now looks just as before with black leaves dying off————–any sugestions please
    regards Sheila

  15. Shelia, Thanks for writing in. It’s really hard to say what’s happening. Is it losing interior leaves or apical (tip) leaves or both? Is it happening only seasonally or all year long? Is it happening on areas with a lot of sun exposure? I don’t know that I’ll be able to answer what’s happening even with this detail. It may be that you need to bring in a certified arborist to take a look.

  16. […] 2009 Update: If you’re interested in reading more about the renovation of this garden, here’s a bit on the Azara microphylla that went in. The beds are still evolving, so more to come […]

  17. Georgi Ann Sidel says:

    I have an Azara tree that is at least 20 feet high, right next to my front porch/walkway! It is quite the specimen! This spring/early summer, though, it is dropping a ton of yellow leaves so I hope it is okay. It gets western sun only in the morning. I”ve pruned it nicely. It gets water. Wish I could send you a picture. 🙂

  18. ours loses some interior leaves every year after the bloom in early summer. They turn yellow and drop. Even evergreens lose some leaves. If the leaves are on the interior of the tree rather than on the tips, it’s probably just part of the plant’s growth. But, without seeing the tree in person, we can’t say for certain. Good luck!

  19. […] is almost here. And, it may not be fully blooming yet, but I noticed a petticoat of yellow on my Azara,  promising chocolate fragrance is soon to be wafting through the […]

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