2014-01-24 / From The Garden

Fabulous Fragrant Flowers

By Cynthia Gibson


Dwarf lemon tree. Dwarf lemon tree. A collection of indoor flowers can brighten even the coldest winter day with captivating fragrances that will transport you to the tropical evening air of Florida. Cultivating jasmines, night-blooming cereus, or citrus in your home is an easy way to surround yourself with a bit of summer. These plants grow outdoors in tropical zones and can thrive in Rhode Island’s humid summers, but they are still considered exotic in this area.

The fragrant flowers of these varieties are mostly white. The backs of the petals of citrus blossoms are usually a bright purple, but once the flower opens it boasts a pure white color.

Jasmines are easy to grow. They love indirect sun and need consistent and even watering without being soaked. They bloom in the winter months of January to March, with a fragrance that will give a boost to the dreary winter months. Stephanotis, a jasmine with green leathery leaves that is often featured in bridal bouquets, enlivens your home this time of year while performing beautifully as an outdoor plant in the summertime.


Cynthia Gibson is a gardener, food writer and painter. She gardens and tends her miniature orchard in Newport. Cynthia Gibson is a gardener, food writer and painter. She gardens and tends her miniature orchard in Newport. The Stephanotis and Madagascar varieties of jasmine flourish in humidity. They require excellent drainage and therefore do well in coconut fiber pots, which have loose weaves of natural fiber allowing water to drain slowly while holding enough to nourish the plant roots. For an added flair, you can train unruly vines around a circular topiary form to create a Stephanotis wreath. Many garden centers now sell topiary shapes, and many nurseries are willing to order these special plants for you.

Like most other plants, jasmine takes a break and rests late in winter as March approaches. Prune the plant after it has bloomed and take it outdoors in June. It will thrive outside until October, when it should be returned to an indoor window to ride out the cold weather.

If something more exotic interests you, look no further than the night-blooming cereus. Even its name is unusual and mysterious. This variety is part of the orchidcactus family; it has very flat stems and leaves similar to a Christmas cactus. The flowering bud points downward as it grows, but starts to point upward late in the afternoon of the day it blossoms. The blooming starts at dusk and continues throughout the night. It is worth staying up to watch the opening of the huge flowers, which can be the size of a large saucer or dinner plate. The blooms truly have one of the most delicious and exotic fragrances you will ever encounter. This is the time to call your pals over for a casual dinner with a magnificent floral backdrop. The flowers will be open by 10 p.m. By the next morning, their short life is over.

Citrus has to be one of the best tropical dwarf trees to grow. You will not only revel in the fabulous fragrance of the blossoms, but you will also get to enjoy the fruit. The Meyer lemon is a winner. Mine have been growing for over three years now, and one plant has eight huge lemons in varying stages of ripeness. The Key lime is just starting to bloom. It produces a tiny lime smaller than a Ping Pong ball that turns yellow like a lemon when ripe. The Key lime blossoms are tiny as well, but their fragrance packs a punch! The scent of citrus flowers is similar to jasmine, but is tangier and not as sweet. And besides, what is better than growing Key limes for your own rum punches?

Remember that potting soil will kill your citrus trees, as it retains too much water and will cause root rot. There is a simple recipe for a gritty potting mixture that will best nourish your oranges, limes, or lemons.

While most nurseries sell Meyer lemon trees in potting soil, have a plan to re-pot the plant once you get home. Good drainage is also important. All of these plants and small trees enjoy the moisture of plastic or fiberglass pots, as terracotta dries out too quickly.

When selecting a jasmine, nightblooming cereus, or citrus, be prepared for a tropical treat. You will fully appreciate this when you make lemonade from your own lemons.

Citrus Potting Mixture

For thriving citrus plants, mix one part bark fines, one part Turface (a soil conditioner), and one part granite. Since it is often difficult to find granite in tiny chunks, substitute the crushed granite found in “chicken grit” sold at feed stores.

Gauge the amounts (parts) you need by the size of the container that will hold your plant.

Mix all of the ingredients in a large plastic wagon or container. Since Turface and chicken grit produce dust, do the job outdoors and be sure to wear gloves and a mask.

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