Confederate jasmine or Star jasmine
Trachelospermum jasminoides is an exceptional cultivar that is not grown for its flowers but rather for its outstanding foliage.
The mature foliage is a rich dark green colour while the new growth, which appears in early summer, is peppered with white and pink. The plant retains this wonderful colour combination all year round. Because the new growth contains hardly any chlorophyll, this cultivar grows much more slowly and its size is stunted. This is why ‘Chameleon’ is a low, shrub-like ground cover that only grows about 30 to 50 cm tall, and spreads reasonably but not rampantly. (Compare this with T. jasminoides, which needs to be reined in regularly.) ‘Chameleon’ should rather be planted in semi-shade since direct sunlight will damage its delicate foliage. This showy plant is suitable for hanging baskets or window boxes on a patio that is shaded during the day.
Gardening authors use words such as ‘fragrant’, ‘pest-free’, ‘low maintenance’ and ‘water-saving’ when they summarise the qualities of Trachelospermum jasminoides (star jasmine), but these are rather mundane descriptions of this beautiful evergreen, that don’t do it any justice. When it is in full bloom during spring, it really calls out for descriptions like ‘exquisite’ and ‘heavenly’. During the summer months dark-green, lustrous leaves cover the woody trailing plant. After winter another shade appears in the form of brand new leaves in lime-green with bronze tints; these leaves emerge in pairs from the growth points on the branches. Next, we see delicate clusters of snow-white, star-shaped flowers. At dusk, their sweet scent fills the air and, when the moon rises and casts her silver light over this creeper, it seems the thousands of flowers begin to glimmer – what wonderful soul food for the winter-weary gardener.
Star jasmine is an energetic grower that can very rapidly cover a wire fence or climb to the top of a tree. If a gardener is willing to give it a wire trellis, the jasmine will quickly envelop pillars with an array of leaves and will spread itself over the beams of a pergola. Landscapers like to use this creeper as a ground cover because it rapidly fills large tracts of land in both the hottest sun and in the cool shade of deciduous trees. In modern horticulture and particularly in small gardens, star jasmine has become an iconic pot plant because it can so easily be trained up steel obelisks or wooden tepees. Planted in hanging baskets, the stems tumble beautifully over the sides when they are heavy with flowers. Experienced topiary artists use this jasmine to create ‘lollipop’ trees by plaiting several sturdy branches together, supporting them well and, through regular pruning, encouraging the jasmine to form a dense crown of leaves at the top. Others prune the plants into large green balls that are covered with little flowers during spring. There are even gardeners who plant other tall trees in rows with circles of star jasmine around their feet; with regular pruning the jasmines quickly form the prettiest informal hedges.
When do they bloom?
Star jasmine flowers best during October and November, but flowers continue to appear right into January.
Most suitable climate
Star jasmine will grow everywhere and tolerate cold and frost. Although harsh winter conditions sometimes damage the plants they recover quickly and soon produce new shoots.
What they need
Location: full sun and semi-shade. It also grows in deep shade but will not flower as well.
Soil: as long as it is well-drained, any soil is suitable. For the best results, add liberal quantities of compost and bone meal to the planting holes. Mulch that keeps the roots cool and damp for longer will save water.
Water: young plants need regular water while they are becoming established; thereafter they are relatively drought-resistant and suffer little damage when watering is withheld. Potted jasmine needs to be watered regularly otherwise the leaves become pale and yellow.
Fertilizing and pruning: feed with a balanced fertilizer in late summer, after the flowering season, to give the leaves strength and to encourage the plant to form flowers for the next season. Prune regularly to keep the plants neat and to stimulate dense growth. When planted as a ground cover, star jasmine can be cut back heavily with a hedge cutter to keep the growth low on the ground. Take care when you prune, because the stems secrete a milky substance that can be a skin irritant.
Star jasmine’s other common names are Confederate jasmine and Trader’s compass. The last name, as the story goes, comes from an old Uzbekistan legend that this plant acted as a compass for travelling salesmen of good character, showing them the correct route.
In a nutshell
* Ideal creeper for small gardens and pots.
* Also a good ground cover.
* Easy to propagate.
* Fragrant and prolific.