Christopher Bailes, the about-to-retire curator of the Chelsea Physic Garden, reckons his plants are between four to six weeks ahead of schedule this summer. Who knows how much of the advance is due to the mild spring after a mild wet winter, and how much to the famously privileged site, surrounded by buildings on the banks of the Thames? The garden has, after all, England’s biggest and oldest olive tree, a serious cork oak and scores of plants considered tender everywhere else.
Hoheria sexstylosa grows here to substantial tree size, palm trees include Jubaea and Washingtonia, the proper working tobacco plant, Nicotiana tabacum, has become a shrub, now in full pink flower. There is a fruiting grapefruit tree and an avocado…no, this is no ordinary London garden. Yet walking there through Chelsea I realise what a hothouse London in general has become. The plant of the moment, to the point of monotony, is Trachelospermum jasminoides , scrambling up walls, dangling from trees, often in its variegated form, a pale presence in expensive front gardens it seems almost everywhere.
No wonder. It is decorative, vigorous and now apparently reliably hardy. It casts a sweet but not obvious jasminoid smell about it. It only needs a little help from a trellis to reach ten feet or more. The cream-variegated form is less vigorous and maybe less hardy, but given a bit of care can be smart as paint.
What else do we know from its family, the Apocynaceae? Periwinkle is perhaps best-known. Also mandevilla and nerium, the common oleander. A trachelospermum in periwinkle blue (or in oleander pink) would be popular.