Elisabeth C. Miller Library

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Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Trachelospermum, Landscaping drain fields, Camellia

Here is the situation: I have six inches between the cement wall and the septic drain field. I want a green screen between myself and the neighbors on the other side of the short cement wall. What can I grow that will give me a green screen and not invade the septic system pipes? All I can think of is some sort of climbing vine, but I am not familiar with which root systems could be a problem.


You have a real challenge with your situation. Most of the literature says that you should not plant any large shrub or tree within 30 feet of a septic system drain field.

Roots growing into the drain field is a serious concern. They recommend consulting an expert if you do want to plant near a drain field.

Instead, you might consider installing an attractive fence and/or using containers to grow plants in. For example, Camellias can be grown on a trellis from a container. They are evergreen, and will also flower. Another vine-like plant is star jasmine, Trachelospermum jasminoides. It is evergreen with fragrant white flowers.

Date 2019-07-17
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Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Plant care, Jasminum

I have a question about the common jasmine plant. Can it be planted in a pot and left on the patio all year round? It will be attached to a fixed trellis. What should we do to protect the plant in the winter?

We live in Langley BC, so our weather is quite similar to yours.


The American Horticulture Society's A to Z Plant Encyclopedia reports that Common Jasmine (Jasminum officinale) is only hardy to zone 9. (Seattle is zone 8, Langley may be a touch cooler)

However, local author (I believe she lives in BC) Christine Allen reports that Jasminum officinale, also known as poet's jasmine, is hardy in our climate if protected from cold, drying winter winds. I think if you move your pot against a wall out of the wind you should be ok.

Date 2019-11-07
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Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Jasminum, House plants

How can I find out about the best way to care for a jasmine plant indoors. The plant is without a species name and I know there are many types of jasmine. Mine has rather robust leaves, and is an active "entwiner". The flowers are white and about the size of a nickel.


The Houseplant Encyclopedia by Ingrid Jantra (Firefly Books, 1997) says that Jasminum likes a full sun, airy location, and should be taken outdoors in summer. During the winter it prefers temperatures of 46-50 degrees Fahrenheit. In summer, keep the root ball moist, and feed every two weeks. In winter, water just enough to keep the plant from drying out. If it is kept in too warm a spot in winter, it may be susceptible to aphids.

Here is some information from British gardener Alan Titchmarsh:

    Indoor jasmine

  • Flower time up to 6 weeks
  • Which room? east or west window, south in winter
  • Temperature max 15C (60F), min 4C (40F), humid

The house plant jasmine (Jasminum polyanthum) bears loose sprays of delightfully fragrant flowers. It is an ideal plant for a cool conservatory or porch which is kept frost free during the winter months. Otherwise, keep it on a well-lit windowsill. Jasmines like a moist atmosphere so mist the leaves regularly and stand the pot on a tray of moist gravel. They are vigorous climbers, so you will need to prune them to keep them small or provide a larger support in subsequent years.

Here is a link to some general information on caring for jasmine plants, from the Chicago Botanic Garden.

Date 2019-07-17
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Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Failure to flower, Trachelospermum

I bought an established, white star jasmine perennial vine one year ago. I was told I could plant it in an extremely large pot and expect to enjoy blooms for about 3 years, but it has not bloomed, nor does it have any buds. It has no pests or blight of any kind. It gets full sun in the morning and partial during the day, and full again in late afternoon. It has always had sufficient water. What's wrong? When do they normally bloom? Was I given inaccurate information?


I am assuming the star jasmine is Trachelospermum jasminoides, as shown in this image from Missouri Botanical Garden.

Failure to flower can be due to a number of causes, as described in this link from University of Vermont Extension.

My top guesses for what may be causing the lack of flowers would be exposure to severe cold in the winter, or over-fertilizing with a nitrogen-heavy fertilizer. The light exposure you describe sounds fine for this plant. In the Pacific Northwest, it flowers mainly from spring to early summer. This link to a Seattle garden writer's site has cultural information appropriate for this region (I don't know where you are writing from).

Date 2019-05-16
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Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Trachelospermum, Thuja, Taxus baccata, Screens, Nandina domestica, Ilex, Hydrangea, Hedges, Euonymus, Clematis, Buxus, Berberis, Bamboo

Could you recommend some plants for a privacy screen that are also narrow? These would be planted in front of a fence in our backyard.


Here is some general information on plants for creating a screen.

Trees for Problem Landscape Sites -- Screening from Virginia Cooperative Extension

Bet on Hedges by local garden writer Valerie Easton.

Landscaping for Privacy: Innovative Ways to Turn Your Outdoor Space into a Peaceful Retreat by PNW author Marty Wingate.

Here is a list of narrow plants for a screen from local garden designer Chris Pfeiffer: "Fastigiate shrubs for naturally narrow hedges." Compiled by Chris Pfeiffer. 2005.

Zones 5-6:

American arborvitae 'Rheingold' (Thuja occidentalis 'Rheingold') 5'h x 3'w

Barberry 'Helmond Pillar' (Berberis thunbergii f. atropurpurea 'Helmond Pillar') 6'h x 2'w

Boxwood 'Graham Blandy' (Buxus sempervirens 'Graham Blandy') 8'h x 1-1/2' w

English yew 'Standishii' (Taxus baccata 'Standishii') 4'h x 1-1/2' w

Irish yew (Taxus baccata 'Fastigiata') 20' h x 4' w

Japanese holly Jersey pinnacle (Ilex crenata 'Jersey Pinnacle') 6' h x 4' w

Japanese holly Mariesii (Ilex crenata 'Mariesii') 3' h x 1-1/2' w

Zones 7-9, in addition to the above:

Dwarf yeddo rhaphiolepis (Rhaphiolepis umbellata Gulf GreenTM) 3-4' h x 2' w

Heavenly bamboo 'Gulf Stream' (Nandina domestica 'Gulf Stream') 4' h x 2' w

Japanese euonymus 'Green Spire' (Euonymus japonicus 'Green Spire') 15' h x 6' w

You might also consider installing a trellis to increase the height of the fence, and then growing an evergreen vine such as Clematis armandii, evergreen hydrangea (Hydrangea seemanii), or star jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides).

This link is also helpful (scroll down to "Evergreen Vines" and look for appropriate height and light requirements).

You could grow bamboo, but I would recommend growing it in a container, or a series of containers, as you do not want the roots to spread. I have seen an effective bamboo screen between two houses growing in a long rectangular lined wooden trough (lined with bamboo barrier). Some species of bamboo are more tolerant of partial shade than others. Look for a clumping, rather than a running, bamboo (like Fargesia) to be on the safe side.

Growing Bamboo in Georgia

Running and Clumping Bamboos

Bamboos for hedges or tall privacy screens

Date 2020-03-13
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Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Campsis, Hummingbirds, Native plant gardening

I live in Bellevue and was thinking of planting a couple of Trumpet vines against a very tall wood fence in my yard (Campsis radicans). I found quite a lot of messages online about these plants being very invasive. Do you know that to be true for this area? If so, what other plants could I use against the fence and which attract hummingbirds as the Trumpet Vine claims to do.


Campsis radicans (trumpet vine)is not considered officially invasive in the Pacific Northwest, though it may be an aggressive grower that needs (or takes up) a fair amount of space. If you do decide to look for alternative vines to grow, scarlet runner bean is attractive to hummingbirds, as are honeysuckle (harder to grow than Campsis as it has occasional problems with aphids), and clematis, according to Naturescaping, published by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (2001).

The local website of Rainyside Gardeners has a list of nectar plants for Northwest hummingbirds. Of the plants on this list (which includes Campsis radicans, Honeysuckle(Lonicera), and Scarlet runner bean), Eccremocarpus scaber, Ipomoea, Jasminum stephanense, Mina lobata, and Tropaeolum are all vines, some of which are annual.

King County Natural Resources has a searchable native plant guide, and here are the native plants they recommend for hummingbirds:

  • Tree:
    • Madrone; madrona (Arbutus menziesii)
  • Vine:
    • Orange honeysuckle (Lonicera ciliosa)
  • Shrub:
    • Red-flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum)
    • Black gooseberry (Ribes lacustre)
  • Groundcover:
    • Thrift; sea pink (Armeria maritima)
    • Western columbine (Aquilegia formosa)
    • Cooley's hedge nettle (Stachys cooleyae)

In my own garden, the Italian Jasmine (Jasminum humile, a shrub grown against a wall, not a vine) appeals to hummingbirds, and in the fall they seem to like the Camellia sasanqua.

Date 2019-09-19
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Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Timber, Cedrus

Given that the Atlas cedar is a true cedar (as opposed to the Western red cedar), does the wood have any particular aromatic or bug-resistant qualities?


I checked The International Book of Wood (edited by Martyn Bramwell; Emblem, 1979), and here is what it says about Cedrus:
"True cedar is a softwood produced by three species. The cedar of antiquity is the cedar of Lebanon, used in the construction of the royal tombs of the early kings of Egypt and by Solomon in the building of the Temple; the deodar of northern India is almost as famous, and the third species is the Atlas cedar [Cedrus atlantica] of the mountains of Algeria and Morocco. [...] The wood of the three species is similar, pale-brown, with a fairly well-defined growth ring, and characterized by a fragrant smell. It is of medium weight for a softwood, a little heavier than European redwood. Cedar dries readily though with a tendency to distort. It is inclined to be brittle and, generally, is not a strong wood; it works easily and takes a fine finish. It is noted for its resistance to both fungi and termites."

This link from Plants for a Future database mentions its fragrance, as well as its fungus- and insect-repelling qualities:
"An essential oil obtained from the distilled branches is a good antiseptic and fungicide that stimulates the circulatory and respiratory systems and also calms the nerves. [...] An essential oil obtained from the distilled branches is used in perfumery, notably in jasmine-scented soaps. The essential oil also repels insects.[...] Wood - fragrant and durable. It is prized for joinery and veneer and is also used in construction. It is also used for making insect-repellent articles for storing textiles."

Date 2019-12-27
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Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Hydrangea, Aromatic plants

I want to add a hydrangea to my garden but I would prefer one that is also fragrant. Are there varieties that have a noticeable pleasant scent?


There are some species and cultivated varieties of Hydrangea that are reported to be fragrant. Bear in mind that everyone's sense of smell is different. I recommend seeking out examples when they are in flower and doing a sniff test in nurseries, gardens, or large parks and arboreta with a good selection. The ones that have a fragrant reputation are:

  • Hydrangea quercifolia: the smell is a rich honey-vanilla to my nose. This shrub is also a wonderful magnet for honeybees, bumblebees, pollen wasps, and syrphid flies. Its inner flowers are fertile, while the more dramatic outer sepals are sterile. Cultivated hydrangeas have been bred to emphasize the sterile florets, while wild hydrangeas tend to have fewer of these and are more useful for pollinators. In my garden, all the pollinator activity is humming along on the fertile inner flowers beneath those sterile four-petaled parts of the inflorescence. The showy parts of a hydrangea so prized by humans for their beauty are not what interests the pollinators .
  • Hydrangea angustipetala and its cultivar ('Golden Crane,' also called 'MonLongShou'): said to smell strongly like jasmine or sweet alyssum; of the species, Dan Hinkley says: "The deeply scalloped sepals of the infertile florets surround a disk of striking chartreuse fertile flowers while emitting a faint but beguiling fragrance." [Horticulture, Jun/Jul2009, Vol. 106, Issue 5]
  • Hydrangea scandens: Dan Hinkley says: "As its name implies, it can be a sprawling shrub but far from what would be considered disheveled. The branches possess a pleasing burgundy-brown color and the lacy cream-colored flowers pack a powerful fragrance during March and April. Hydrangea scandens 'Fragrant Splash' adds a bonus of variegated foliage." [Ibid.]
  • Some hybrids of Hydrangea macrophylla x Hydrangea angustipetala
  • Hydrangea macrophylla 'Ayesha': "one of the only Hydrangeas to have a delicate fragrance in bloom" [Great Plant Picks profile]
  • Hydrangea anomala ssp. petiolaris (a climbing hydrangea)
  • Hydrangea paniculata: "slight floral scent" or "mild fruity fragrance"

Close relations in hydrangea family:
  • Pileostegia viburnoides: "In late summer, frilly cymes of heavily-scented flowers erupt amidst its foliage, filling the air of our woodland drive with a delicious aroma of honey. Not surprisingly, honey bees are highly attracted to the flowers that rely entirely on scent." [Heronswood blog, August 29, 2018] However, not all noses smell alike. An article in Arnoldia [June 2, 1964] says "The floral odor is described as 'fragrant' or 'ill-smelling.'"
  • Decumaria barbara (woodvamp): a climber in the Hydrangea family, native to swampy areas of the southeastern U.S., with fertile flowers that are slightly fragrant or fragrant, depending on the source.

Based on the research above, Hydrangea quercifolia and Hydrangea angustipetala cultivars seem like the best choices.

Date 2020-08-05
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Reviewed by: Tracy Mehlin on 2020-10-22

[The Scentual Garden] cover

"Green, resinous, camphorous, nutmeg, a scant suggestion of lemon rind." Ken Druse has a very keen nose. In The Scentual Garden, he undertakes an adventure, as he puts it, to classify botanical fragrance. Druse wants to give gardeners and designers an expanded lexicon for scent that equals the rich vocabulary we already have for color, texture and form. It won't surprise anyone familiar with his other books that The Scentual Garden is 'coffee table' quality, with heavy paper, lots of color photographs of plants in the landscape and of composed portraits of plants on a solid color background. It's pleasurable to simply flip through the pages for Ellen Hoverkamp's photography alone. However, once you start reading the text of this reference book you will ask yourself, do I get "nutmeg and a scant suggestion of lemon rind" from my rosemary shrub?

Druse devised 12 "botanical fragrance categories." Most are obvious and self-explanatory, such as fruity, medicinal, spice and forest. Others are more esoteric and mysterious, like heavy or indolic, which is described as "mothballs, hot garbage, overripe fruit, excrement..." Eww! Apparently some pleasant-smelling flowers, like gardenia, can have a secondary background scent of indole. I say "apparently" because when I smelled my own gardenia in flower just now I didn't get anything indolic. But smell is deeply personal, as Druse fully explains in the opening chapters. I grew two varieties of heliotrope this past summer. One smelled like delicious vanilla/cherry pie as expected while the other smelled like the horrible synthetic fragrance used to clean public restrooms. My husband thought of urinal cake. I'll not grow that cultivar again!

Each category includes an explanation with sample plants, followed by encyclopedia entries for more plants in the category. Plant entries describe the scent, use in the garden, cultivation tips, sometimes a bit of history, and sometimes recommended cultivars. Druse writes with honesty and insight, from personal experience of decades of knowing plants. After reading The Scentual Garden, I'm more likely to sniff my plants and ponder in which category they belong and whether there is a hint of indole in my star jasmine.

Published in the November 2020 Leaflet, Volume 7, Issue 11.

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