Having a garden brings year-round pleasures – even in the depths of winter there is something to lift the spirits. Apart from walking the dog, digging leeks or filling the log basket, there’s not an awful lot to lure us out from the cosy comforts of indoors; but some of my favourite flower fragrances belong to plants whose blooms open on the shortest days of the year.
We’re advised to site these near paths and doorways for easy access; yet glimpses of pale pink viburnum blossom, winter honeysuckle and spidery witch hazel draw me to every corner of our plot. Rambling from one to another, inhaling perfume and cutting stems for indoors – it’s the perfect antidote to winter.
Weeks of fragrance
To be sure of pollination when few insects are about, the flowering periods of these plants tend to be long, and individual blooms last well. Deciduous Viburnum farreri and its offspring V. x bodnantense are fine examples, opening blooms from their flower clusters during mild spells from autumn to spring.
The olfactory feast starts with lily of the valley-scented mahonias; midwinter brings the head-turning perfumes of Christmas box, and a mild January encourages buds of Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’ to pop open, joined by an abundance of blossom from witch hazels. Wintersweet, edgeworthia and the fuzzy yellow blooms of the box leaf Azara (A. microphylla) appear during February, paving the way for spring.
Most winter scents waft from shrubby plants, and – true to their woodland origins – the majority share a love of humus-rich, well-drained soil and shelter from late frosts, cold winds and harsh sun. Add plenty of leaf mould or well-rotted garden compost to lighter soils; on heavier ones, consider growing In slightly raised beds to protect roots from winter waterlogging.
Plant them now
You can plant pretty much all of these fragranced favourites now – as long as the soil is well prepared and neither frozen nor wet. One exception is Mediterranean native Coronilla valentina subsp. glauca, the yellow pea-like flowers of which pump out a fruity perfume. Only 3-4ft (1-1.2m) high, it likes sun and well-drained soils, and is best planted in spring.
In smaller courtyard gardens, plant winter scent around the edges, against walls or in containers. Bulbs of snowdrop Galanthus ‘S. Arnott’ and corms of Crocus chrysanthus ‘Snow Bunting’ look lovely in clay pots and pans, which are easily raised to nose level.
6 scented shrubs for borders
Edgeworthia chrysantha ‘Grandiflora’
For many years I grew this deciduous shrub in a nook by my office door and looked forward to the honey – almost buddleja-like – scent that drifted inside from its yellow flower clusters every February. The leaves are rather handsome, too. H&S: 5ft (1½m).
Daphne bholua ‘Jaqueline Postill’ AGM
The evergreen queen of daphnes, whose clusters of pink flowers float their impossibly sweet scent in the cool air during January and February. For good results, position thoughtfully in shelter and plant in humus-rich, moist and well-drained soil. H: 8x5ft (2½x1½m).
Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Pallida’ AGM
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