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Fragrant Calycanthus

by Shelly Nold

MUCH LIKE BELL-BOTTOM JEANS, some plants aren’t considered “cool” anymore. Sometimes this is justified, but many times it is not. In the case of Calycanthus floridus, it is definitely not justified. Its flowers aren’t big and showy, and this is probably why it has fallen out of favor.

CALYCANTHUS, ALSO KNOWN AS sweetshrub or Carolina allspice, is probably a shrub your parents or grandparents knew and loved. The small, many-petaled flowers are usually reddish-brown, and emerge all along the shrub’s stems. What the flowers lack in beauty they make up for in fragrance, which has been described as similar to strawberry, banana, or even pineapple. A single plant will make the whole garden smell wonderful.

SWEETSHRUB IS HAPPY in full sun to part shade and isn’t very picky about the soil it grows in. At maturity, sweetshrub gets to be 6 to 8 feet tall and about as wide. Flowers generally occur over a long period from May into June. The glossy green leaves turn a wonderful yellow or gold color in the fall.

WHEN LOOKING FOR SWEETSHRUB, try to find a named variety. Fragrance can be highly variable between different plants. ‘Athens’ is a nice yellow flowering variety with good fragrance, and ‘Michael Lindsey’ is a reliable red flowering variety.

PLANT POPULARITY can change as frequently as fashion trends. But just like the little black dress that will never go out of style, there are timeless garden classics that should always have a place in our lives. Calycanthus is one of these. Maybe Mom knew what she was talking about after all.

Shelly Nold is a horticulturist and owner of The Plant Kingdom. Send stories and ideas to her at The Plant Kingdom, 4101 Westport Road, Louisville, KY 40207.


by Angie McManus

What is the best potting mix or soil to use for Kimberly Queen ferns?

Kimberly Queen ferns, Nephrolepis obliterata, are hardy to zone 9, so they are considered a tropical in Kentucky, although they are quite easy to over-winter if you have the space.

In terms of soil, this will depend on whether you are growing your fern in a container or in the ground. These upright sword ferns are great in containers or in a bed. Either way, it is important that the soil is well-drained. They are not too picky when it comes to soil as long as it allows for proper drainage.

To grow in a container, use a high-quality container medium such as Pro-Mix. If the ferns are growing in the garden, just make sure the clay is not too compact so the roots can breathe. If your clay is compact, work in compost or an expanded slate material such as PermaTill to help break up the clay and allow for better drainage.

These ferns prefer the soil to be consistently moist, not sopping wet, but they should not be allowed to completely dry out between waterings. They can reach 3 feet tall and wide at maturity.


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