Fragrant Fountain grows well in just about any soil

May 15, 2019

While gardening, like life itself, can be a game, we seem too often to favor the familiar and safe outcome whether in plants or life choices. Yet it is possible that being cautious is the worst choice, because chance can work in our favor. There is the chance seedling that sprouts from a rogue seed and becomes the Granny Smith apple, or the chance seedling of a rose that becomes the hybrid tea La France, the first hybrid tea rose in the world.

In 1996 a chance seedling of a Japanese Snowbell sprouted at the Crispin Silva nursery in Molalla, Ore. This tree has a distinctive weeping habit, along with a fast growth rate, and a deep fragrance to its cascading white flowers. The tree is now available to gardeners as “Fragrant Fountain” (Styrax japonicus), a Japanese Snowbell. This is a fast-growing tree that stays small, reaching just six feet high and five feet wide.

It is one of the best trees to grow in partial shade to full sun. The tree is literally covered with drooping, fragrant, bell-shaped white flowers for months, blooming from spring well into summer. In the fall the dark-green foliage turns a brilliant deep yellow.

Fragrant Fountain grows well in just about any soil, as long as it drains well. They grow best in organically rich, slightly acidic soil. Water regularly and deeply the first year. Once the roots are established, you can water once a week if there is no rain. Fertilize in very early spring, before new growth starts.

Potted plants of Fragrant Fountain Styrax are usually available at local nurseries and garden stores or by mail from companies such as Wayside Gardens (

The Fragrant Fountain weeping small tree is one of the few that tolerates, and indeed, thrives under light shade. This means you need not worry about larger neighboring trees keeping you from having this tiny tree and its flowers. It is also ideal for edge of woods or as an understory tree, especially if you live where the summer sun is too harsh.

Even though Fragrant Fountain almost never needs pruning, you can cut it back immediately after the flowers fade. The trees are typically free of diseases and insect pests, and are winter-hardy in USDA Zones 5-8.

The seed for the original Fragrant Fountain came from a pink-flowering Japanese Snowbell Tree and an unknown parent.

Fragrant Fountain has white blooms but also has drooping or pendulous branches and stays nice and small, so it fits in even small yards or wooded areas.

The success of this chance seedling teaches us to look for and take chances in life, and let the unknown seed bloom. The miracle might not be that an upright pink-flowered Japanese Snowbell plant gave birth to a white-flowering drooping miniature tree; but the miracle is that someone recognized the uncertainty of planting those seeds. So take a chance in our gardens and in our lives. There is perhaps a certain wisdom in uncertainty.

  • Paul Barbano writes about gardening from his home in Rehoboth Beach. Contact him by writing to P. O. Box 213, Lewes, DE 19958.