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How To Grow A Gardenia In The San Francisco Bay Area, And Other Dialogues


  1. Harbor a hidden guilty love of gardenia fragrance, for 30 years
  2. In November, hire your fabulously talented garden designer to redo your backyard
  3. Respond, “Yes,” when he asks if you’d like him to put a gardenia in a pot, hidden from sight around a corner of your house
  4. Stare blankly at the resultant green and bloomless plant for months. It will stare blankly back at you. This is now your relationship.
  5. Cheer when a bunch of buds burst out
  6. Curse when said buds brown and wither and drop, not a flower in sight
  7. Go google everything you can about Why Won’t My Gardenia Flower San Francisco Bay Peninsula Gardenia Bloom Damn You
  8. Despair at the conflicting information. Apparently gardenias are notoriously reluctant to bloom in your region. Curse your garden designer and suspect him of giving you a plant he simply couldn’t bear to kill himself
  9. Continue to water said implacable gardenia plant because you can’t bear to kill it either
  10. One day, dutifully fertilizing your fuchsia with organic glop that smells of rotting fish, realize you might just feed your gardenia too
  11. Rummage around the garden supplies and find some azalea and camellia food that yes, hey, what do you know!, is also good for gardenias
  12. Follow directions. When nothing else works, follow directions.
  13. A month later, wake to the glorious sight of a flock of gardenia buds poised for flight like seagulls on shore
  14. Another week or two later, blooms. That peppery vanilla-esque fragrance is intoxicatingly yours, day or night, night or day. Juicy Fruit gum, meet Szechuan peppercorns.
  15. Take a breath. Your life has been forever changed.

Especially when you let the light reflect from a copper watering can onto one of your blossoms, early in the morning, and the drops pause, and wait, for whatever secret it is that only gardenias know.










51 Responses

  1. Glorious! I’m jealous. You’ve captured its beauty in these photos and I can almost smell their intoxicating scent.

  2. Ah, I’ve had my share of Gardenia Frustration, even here in So Cal. Feeding, who knew?? ;-) Your photos are gorgeous. I can almost smell that heady fragrance from here.

  3. This is so funny!

    I don’t think anyone fertilizes Gardenias in the southeast. They just stick em in the ground.

  4. Lovely!

    I’ve never managed to get gardenias flowering long-term. I had one in a pot which was turned into a bonsai by our neighbour’s cat who persistently curled up and slept onto top of it.

    1. @Eleanorjane, Ah, now, long-term we will have to see! It’s quite likely that this little guy will turn completely brown and give up on me. I hope not, but, gardening;).

  5. Oh, the photos capture the gardenia so well. I am totally jealous. I planted a gardenia last fall and everyone told me they were easy. Phoeey. It looked beautiful in the early spring, and then it suddenly turned brown and looked dead. I was about to dig it up, but now, in this dreadful heat, it is putting out leaves again. Perhaps there is hope.

  6. I killed one in Virginia. My husband says when I buy plants they look longingly back at the others knowing they have met their sad fate in my hands.

  7. Congratulations on your success! So happy that you have this for yourself. I have managed to kill a few in Atlanta. Last few winters I kept them alive with big plastic containers with old rugs over them when temps got down too low. redneck cloches!

    1. @Caren, Redneck cloches, ha! Our winters here just might be mild enough that gardenias don’t need cover. But, one never knows.

  8. My grandmother always had pots of gardenias on the patio at her house. Such a beautiful and evocative smell for me. I’m glad you got yours to flower at last. Persistence pays off.

  9. Woohooooo! I’m a master gardener and struggled to get a few blooms – one was enough but yes they are reluctant but oh so worth it!!

    1. @JB, Boy I’d love to pick your brains! A master gardener. You probably know what I should do about my beloved apricot rose that seems to be miserable this year and I do not know why.

    1. @JB, My friend Lauren went to visit it! Do the Botanical people think it was their efforts? Or something else altogether in the universe?

  10. Reading this was pure joy this morning. What a great way to start my day. Thank you.

  11. Congratulations!! Perfectly gorgeous!
    I can smell them now.
    I believe the scent was called Jungle Gardenia.

  12. Gardenias have been my one requirement in the last three gardens. In Texas they grow beautifully and easily. With an entire wall of gardenias, you could literally get drunk off the scent walking outside. Alas, here in Colorado I don’t think gardenias are a thing.

    1. @Nelson Bartley, Colorado is even drier than we are here, and, sun is stronger? But what do I know! I would love to pass a wall of gardenias. I’d probably fall over in a swoon of happiness.

  13. Congratulations!!

    My Georgia-born mother tried to grow gardenias in Miami–and roses … and peaches. Too hot for all of them, although a few roses would straggle along.

    Nothing like that smell on a hot summer night.

  14. I admit to wearing Jungle Gardenia as a teen in the ’60s. Before I was shamed out of it . Before I found that all perfumes made me sneeze. There is no way to grow a gardenia in low-humidity Colorado – brown buds are my reward for coddling them. Once in awhile reason will not prevail and I will buy a pot already in bloom and sniff the goodness out of them until it’s certain demise. Gardenia power to you!

  15. Sweet success! Love the scent of gardenias. My gardenias arrive from the florist looking lovely and in bloom. Unfortunately, it is all down hill from there. I am clueless on how to keep them going year to year. Susan

    1. @Susan, Cross your fingers for me then. An idea just occurred to me. Maybe this gardenia had always lived outside, in a spot like the one where it is now? Maybe florist gardenias are used to hot-house life?

  16. Everything in my garden is upside down this year, nothing blooming right, even my stalwart hydrangeas. Not sure why? I love the smell of gardenias though and wish mine would bloom. Your’s is lovely

  17. Hi Lisa,

    A friend of mine, Andrea from the French Basketeer Blog, recently commented that no matter how much water we give our gardens they always look better after a rain. That made me put on my Gardener/Scientist’s hat. Here in California where almost all of our water comes from aqueducts, the water is very low in nitrogen. In places where it rains a lot (like Houston), most of the water comes from rain. Rainwater has lots of nitrogen because the droplets capture it as they fall through the air.

    My lawn is a PERFECT example of how much plants need nitrogen. When I fertilize it, it turns green in about 2 weeks. If I happen to miss some spots, those spots are still dry and crispy looking even though they get the same amount of water as the rest of the lawn.

    The same is true with Lisa’s gardenia. The fertilizer gave the plant nitrogen and it immediately perked up!

    So save water! Remember to give your plants more nitrogen.

    This comment was NOT sponsored by any fertilizer company.

    Smiles from Charlotte Des Fleurs

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