They’re vines, they’re evergreen, they have fragrant and showy flowers, and their names sound alike. If you have something in your garden you want covered fast, they just might be the ticket — Carolina jessamine and Confederate jasmine.
Native to the South and the state flower of South Carolina, Carolina jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens) is commonly seen trained over doorways, bay windows, on walls and fences, and up lamp posts and mailboxes. In the wild, we spot its yellow blooms peeking down at us from tree branches. It climbs by twining its thin, pliable stems around something, so it needs a support. Unlike wisteria and some other vines, however, it won’t crush the structure it’s growing on.
Here in north-central Alabama, jessamine’s golden bells usually appear at the very end of winter, borne in such profusion as to completely hide the small, light-green leaves. ‘Pride of Augusta,’ available from Woodlanders, offers double blooms. ‘Pale Yellow’ bears creamy-yellow flowers. Carolina jessamine grows fast, so don’t buy one bigger than a one-gallon size. It likes sun or light shade and well-drained soil. Trim it in late spring after it finishes flowering. Carolina jessamine is winter-hardy to at least USDA Zone 7 (6B?) and deer won’t eat it. You shouldn’t either.
Like Carolina jessamine, Confederate jasmine (Trachelosperum jasminoides) isn’t a true jasmine. Native to China, it gets its name from the incredible sweet fragrance of its creamy-white blooms. As with winter daphne, winter honeysuckle, and wisteria, this is one plant you often smell before you see.
Confederate jasmine grows just as fast as Carolina jessamine, has all the same uses, and is cared for the same way. There are two major differences besides the flower color, however. First, Confederate jasmine blooms later, usually in May for us. Second, it isn’t quite as cold-hardy. I’d give it a go up to USDA Zone 7B. If you want to try for 7A, plant a hardier selection called ‘Madison.’