If we all grew the same shrub, Sundance Mexican orange would be a golden choice
TIME FOR a botanical party game. If everyone in our region could grow the same plant, which one should it be? Inspired by the popular Seattle Reads One Book, One City program offered in the public library, I put my question to a number of local gardeners.
At the end of another dark winter day, I get my first answer. Mary Flewelling Morris, known as “Garden Jeopardy,” writes: “I dream of increasing light. Imagine everyone planting a Choisya ternata ‘Sundance’. The bright yellow foliage would cheer up the whole region. ”
Sundance Mexican Orange is a pretty evergreen shrub with bright golden foliage that brightens the garden even in winter. Clusters of white, sweet-scented star-shaped flowers, similar to orange blossoms (hence the common name), fill the garden in spring and then again in autumn with sporadic blooms throughout the summer.
It is rich in nectar, so bees and butterflies are drawn to the simple shape of the open flowers. The glossy foliage is also aromatic. Some call it spicy; I find it pleasant. I harvest short stems all summer long to create a fragrant ruff around modest garden bouquets.
In addition to its cheerful nature, the Mexican orange has a steely constitution. Native to the American Southwest and most of Mexico, Choisya is drought tolerant and pest free. ‘Sundance’ is smaller than the straight species and has a compact, rounded shape, growing 4 to 6 feet tall and equally wide. While the plant thrives in full sun, it likes to tolerate shade with just a slight weakening of its golden yellow foliage. Set up ‘Sundance’ so that it gets morning sun to keep its glow.
My approach to balancing a small garden with my huge love for whatever grows is to plant in generous layers; others call it “cram-scaping”. ‘Sundance’ thrives in my garden in the dry shade under a tree in the company of large-root geranium (Geranium macrorrhizum), Japanese tassel fern (Polystichum polyblepharum) and the stinky iris (Iris foetidissima). It’s a tough bunch of hard-working, low-maintenance ground cover plants that keep weeds from gaining a foothold. Seriously, it’s one of the easiest areas of my landscape to maintain. A quick spring grooming session is all it takes to clean up the winter worn-out foliage.
Get creative when introducing ‘Sundance’ to your garden. Glossy foliage and fragrant flowers have a tropical feel to it, if that’s your dream. A block of several plants in a contemporary landscape has a graphic effect. Put it in a large container for immediate effect.
Conveniently, the Mexican orange, with its attractive foliage filled to the ground, is an ideal candidate for plant beds with a narrow foundation and can easily be kept below window height. Or maybe you just want a tidy low hedge that doesn’t require a lot of pruning. Choisya ternata ‘Sundance’ prefers full sun to partial shade and well-drained acidic soil. The plant is not only drought tolerant and easy to care for, it is also deer and rabbit resistant. And for those of you training new pandemic puppies, the plant’s flexible stems are tough and non-toxic. Winter hardy in zone 7-10.
Lorene Edwards Forkner
is the author of The Beginner’s Guide to Growing Great Vegetables, Timber Press, 2021. Follow ahandmadegarden.com.