Until spring truly arrives in March there is often a bit of a lull in late-winter when gardens can look uninspiring and dreary. Creating a garden with year round interest is the key to good garden design and there is a wide range of plants that are perfect for winter interest.
A surprisingly large group of plants for winter interest are those which are grown for their beautiful winter fragrance. Winter flowering plants are among the most highly scented of all garden plants and each try to outdo each other in order to attract pollinators. Winter fragrant flowers can sometimes appear small and insignificant but they have evolved in this way to lure the few pollinating insects around in winter with scent. What they lack in size they more than make up for in fragrance and will often force you to stop in your tracks to discover the source of such strong scents.
Amongst winter flowering shrubs Hamamelis aka Witch Hazel is one of the firm favourites. As well as providing lots of healing properties in medicines, witch hazel is well known for its beautiful clusters of spidery flowers that bloom on bare branches from December through to late February with flower colours ranging from pale to reds and deep oranges. Young plants can be susceptible to frosts so plant away from frost pockets in a sheltered position.
Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’ and ‘Charles Lamont’ are both cultivars that are considered to be stars of the winter garden. They are both upright deciduous cultivars which bear dense clusters of intensely fragrant flowers on bare branches from November through to March. Flower colours change from delicate pinks fading to white as the flowers age.
One of the best shrubs for winter scent is the winter flowering Honeysuckle, Lonicera fragrantissima. It is not a climber like many other Honeysuckles, but a semi-evergreen bushy shrub with highly fragrant creamy-white, tubular flowers in winter and early spring.
Of all the shrubs renowned for scent the daphnes are the most sought after and cherished. Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’ is the evergreen favourite with shiny pointed leaves with narrow gold margins. The clusters of purple pink flowers start to open in late winter and continue for several weeks in spring. The perfume is rich, sweet and delicious. It does not grow well in a pot, but will grow well in well drained soils in sun or semi-shade.
Edgeworthia chrysantha is an unusual shrub closely related to the daphnes. In late winter silky buds, carried in clusters at the tips of the bare branches, open into sweetly perfumed rich yellow flowers, covered with shining white hairs. Like witch hazel this is a shrub that is best grown in a sheltered situation. The pliable branches have light brown, smooth bark that is used in Japan to make fine quality paper used for banknotes.
A final must have for winter scent is Sarcococca aka Christmas box or Sweet box. Sarcococca is a compact, slow growing evergreen shrub that thrives in dense shade. It produces small, creamy-white flowers with a highly intense scent that will stop anyone in their tracks as they brush past it.
When selecting shrubs for their winter scent it is important to try and plant them somewhere where you can fully appreciate them without having to make a special detour towards them in a forgotten corner. They are best planted in a spot you would frequently brush past on your way out of the house or near a pathway in the garden you walk frequently during winter. A front garden or near a back door are perfect positions as you will pass them on a day to day basis.