One of my absolute favorite fall-flowering plants is the Fragrant Tea Olive (Osmanthus fragrans). Given its name, you'd be right to assume this plant's flowers give off a beautiful smell. Some liken it to a sweet perfume, and it is wonderful to encounter in the fall garden.
Fragrant Tea Olive is a large, evergreen shrub that can reach twenty- to thirty-feet wide and tall at maturity, but they are usually shorter in our part of the state. I often see them planted by landscapers much too close to a home's foundation or near the house, which can often cause headaches to those tasked with pruning.
It can be planted to soften a corner of a home, but make sure to plant far away from the house and give plenty of room to spread. Fragrant Tea Olive is best used as a background plant or as an evergreen border. They prefer sites with part-sun.
This plant is well loved by landscape designers and landscapers because of its toughness and ability to adapt to a wide range of soil. I have seen it planted in several different soil types here in Georgia, and it excels in most of them. Tea Olives have very little insect and disease issues, making them perfect for someone aiming for a "low-maintenance" landscape.
The scented flowers of the Fragrant Tea Olive are what really set it apart in the landscape. Small, cream-white flowers pop up in the fall and are usually hidden by the large leaves. The fragrance is similar to a citrus blossom or jasmine. Heavy bloom usually runs a few months in the fall, with sporadic blooming continuing through the winter and into spring.
Tea Olives are native to China, where they are referred to as the cassia flower. The blooms are often harvested and the fragrance infused into perfumes, soaps, and various food items.
Fragrant Tea Olives do well in our area up until the end of USDA Hardiness Zone 7. Once you get into Zone 6, very cold winters may cause some damage. Another Tea Olive species that is more cold hardy is the Fortune's Tea Olive (Osmanthus x fortune). It has a similar growth habit and fragrance.
If you are looking for a tough evergreen shrub to plant this fall, take a good look at the Tea Olive varieties. With the right site and room to grow, you will get many years of delightful fall perfume in your home garden.