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Azara microphylla (Vanilla Tree)

Another one of our obscure little South American trees to take you back to your intrepid expeditions to Patagonia with Bruce Chatwin, Paul Theroux and Bill Tilman.

Evergreen, quite narrow, weeping, delicate shiny round leaves and little yellow flowers in early March that smell powerfully and deliciously of vanilla. Get a whiff of this and the the next thing you know, you’ll be in the kitchen whipping up Teriyaki sauce and a Victoria Sponge for tea. The weeping habit and herringbone arrangement of the branches – plus the fragrance – are its most obvious features. It can reach 20ft or more and although perfectly hardy, it’ll appreciate shelter from strong northerlies and easterlies. Seems unfussy about soil although the height of trees I know varies a lot – presumably because of the soil. The biggest I ever saw was in the grounds of Winchester Cathedral – about 35 to 40 ft. The most beautiful was in the RHS Garden at Wisley in Surrey but the last time I went, the area where it had grown, had been turned into a car park. Sun or partial shade.

Incidentally, Winchester Cathedral grounds has an extraordinary collection of unusual plants. In particular, the Azara microphylla, Magnolia delavayi and Ligustrum lucidum. There may once have been an association with the local Hillier’s Nursery who used to grow a huge range of unusual trees and the owner – Sir Harold Hillier – was a great enthusiast.

Propagated by us by cuttings. The original tree grew in the garden at Sedgewick Place near Horsham (only rarely open to the public).

N.B. When clipping several plants with the same tool, have a bucket containing a 5% bleach solution and swish your blades around for 30 seconds between plants to sterilise them. This will help avoid the chance of cross contamination of disease.

As with all woody plants, plant high, exposing as much of the taper at the base of the trunk as possible. Allowing soil to accumulate round the base of a tree can be fatal. Keep very well watered when first planted.

Hardiness traffic light amber

Hardiness level Amber

Find out more

Hardy in the Home Counties if sensibly sited (avoiding severe frost pockets, for example). Many Amber Labelled Plants are from cuttings from well-established plants that have survived many harsh winters in the South-East.

This is only meant as a guide. Please remember we're always on hand to give advice about plants and their frost hardiness.

Please remember that these coloured labels are only a rough guide.

General Point about Plant Hardiness: The commonly held belief that it's better to 'plant small' is perfectly true with herbaceous plants, but not necessarily true with woody plants. They need some 'wood' on them to survive severe cold - so plants of marginal hardiness in very cold areas should really be planted LARGER, rather than smaller, wherever possible.