Evert plant has its story, its background and its connections. At times it may be the most recent and most local which become attached and are most immediately significant for us but it is good to also recall those more historical.
Osmanthus delavayi is the plant of the moment for me and its immediate relevance comes because I identified it from a photograph posted on Facebook by Johnstown Garden Centre for their Wednesday Quiz and my prize was the plant itself which arrived in today’s post – only two days after the quiz, a quite amazingly speedy delivery!
In my garden, it will always be the shrub I won in the Johnstown Garden Centre quiz but, of course, there is far more to the story than events of the last few days. The name itself is interesting and perfectly named – it has the most deliciously fragrant flowers and the generic name comes from the Greek “osma”, meaning fragrant, and “anthos” meaning flower. Quite simply, perfect!
The specific name, “delavayi” recalls one of the greatest of all the plant collectors, Pere Jean Marie Delavayi. He was a French missionary priest who was sent to China in 1867and worked in Hui-chou region, east of Canton. During a brief return to France in 1881 he met another famous plant collector, Père Armand David, who persuaded him to collect for the Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle. On his return to China he was based in north-west Yunnan and made one of the largest collections ever made of plants from the wild, a total of 200,000 specimens representing over 4,000 species and of these 1,500 were new discoveries. Best known among his discoveries are Deutzia discolor, Deutzia purpurascens, Osamnthus delavayi and Incarvillea delavayi, all now commonly grown and appreciated for their beauty and contribution to our gardens.
Despite his amazing work ethic and the enormous list of plants he found in China he introduced quite few of them to cultivation and it might be a fair assessment of his contribution to western horticulture to say that he alerted the nurserymen of the west to the riches of the Chinese flora but that it fell to later plant collectors to introduce them to cultivation. He did send some seed of Osmanthus delavayi to the French nurseryman, Maurice de Vilmorin, but only one seed germinated and all plants of Osmanthus delavayi were propagated by cuttings from this original plant until further seed was collected by the Scottish collector, George Forrest, after the First World War. The plant quickly proved its worth in gardens and was awarded the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit in 1923.
The best planting of that I have come across was at Bodnant Gardens in north Wales where its fragrance announces its presence long before one sees the plant at all. I can now look forward to many years of enjoying this plant in my own garden, to its fragrant flowers in March each year and to remember with it Johnstown Garden Centre, Pere Jean Marie Delavayi, the Vilmorin Nursery in France and George Forrest.