Braving the elements reaps sweet smell of success

Laura

I can’t believe my sisters sometimes….! When I proposed our next blog should be about winter scented shrubs there was palpable apathy from the pair of them: ‘nothing much smelling in my garden at the moment’, ‘ it’s too windy for me to go and check if anything’s got a scent’. True, Elaine has finally succumbed to Aussie flu, so has probably lost all sense of smell anyway, and Caroline’s Scottish fiefdom has been the subject of several named storms in recent weeks, but honestly – what lightweights! – they are both missing out on one of the highlights of the gardening year. I love perambulating my garden in January, hands clasping a hot drink, visiting each of my winter beauties in turn and soaking up their delicious fragrance.

Louise gets it – did you catch her plant profile of wintersweet, Chimonanthes ‘Luteus’ a couple of weeks ago and she (unlike snowflakes C and E)  has obviously been out and about in her garden and has brought our attention to another  winter gem this week. My stars are winter honeysuckle, Lonicera purpursii

Hamamelis ‘Aphrodite’

Winter Beauty’ which frames our garden gate (see our feature picture above) and greets all visitors with a hefty waft of perfume; Hamamelis  ‘Aphrodite

which is just starting to radiate a scent very reminiscent of freesia, and a beefy clump of Christmas box, Sarcococca confusa by my back door.

Sarcococca confusa – a cheerful and fragrant winter companion

These winter flowering shrubs have some characteristics in common, they tend to have fairly insignificant pale coloured flowers, but intense scent that is thrown much more widely around the garden than that of many summer flowering shrubs, and seems to intensify in the early evening – my theory is that they are pitching for the crepuscular (wouldn’t Miranda Harte love that word) insect life such as wintermoths so am planning a torchlight foray to test this prediction. The secret of positioning winter flowering shrubs is to dot them around next to your accustomed route ways so you can’t help but pass them, even on the coldest day, such as the path to the front door or to the garage, or in Caroline’s case to the glass bottle recycling bin.

Caroline (wearing the hat)

They’re all Perrier bottles I assure you but if the odd Gordon’s bottle is included I feel there’s good cause –  could Laura have actually chosen a more difficult topic than winter scent? A question I asked Betsy who was on reception at the Royal Botanical Gardens Edinburgh where I went at the weekend for inspiration. A trip well worth it for meeting Betsy alone.  Painstakingly we went through the database for any likely candidate. The hotly-tipped fragrance of Skimmia x confusa ‘Kew Green’ was an emotional rollercoaster – they had two, but they’d died (how well I know that scenario), but we soon had an exciting map full of potential treasures.

Viburnum bodnantense ‘Charles Lamont’

Unfortunately the honey scent of Galanthus (snowdrop to you and me) ‘Magnet’ remains a mystery despite me making so many trips around its rumoured location by the pond even the moorhens looked deflated. However Viburnum bodnantense  ‘Charles Lamont’ did not disappoint and had my phone’s battery not caved in to the cold, I know I would have bettered Laura’s snap of the sweetly smelling Lonicera purpursii ‘Winter Beauty’ which incidentally is also recommended by Gavin Jones on the brilliant ‘Gardening UK’ Facebook forum – his opinion is worth noting. We asked in our last blog what others dream about and reader Jane Lloyd mentioned the smell of jasmine. As well as being the ancient smell of calm, jasmine is also supposed to be an aphrodisiac. I hasten to add this was not cited by Jane as the reason she dreams of it, but it reminds me that my favourite smell is fast approaching….crown imperials when they start pushing through the soil – earthy, primeval and reeking of fertility – it’s what happens when Jo Malone goes bad.

Elaine

Golly I think Caroline’s been watching too many Game of Thrones box sets but I do agree with her, I swear Laura often dreams up topics for the express purpose of exposing our ignorance.  This time she clearly intended to send both of us out into the elements frantically sniffing things like a lovesick poodle, in a hopeless attempt to find something to equal her findings.  And of course, that’s exactly what I have just done. I was pleased to find the Daphne bholua 

Daphne bholua

with its branches festooned in pink and white frosting, pumping out her expensive scent among the drab winter twigs like a fat pantomime duchess at a Parish Council Meeting.  What WAS she thinking? Who could she impress in such a setting?  Apparently, this winter-scent malarkey is all to do with there being fewer pollinators around, so you need to pile on the Givenchy if you want the light bug-traffic to notice you.

Iris unguicularis – great colour in January

What else? The Iris unguicularis is covered in fresh earthy-smelling sky-blue flowers. I don’t know what variety mine is – it possibly doesn’t have one; apparently, the silvery-lilac ‘Walter Butt’ is the best one for scent. These winter irises are exquisite to pick (remember to cut low down well below their long papery buds) and pop into a squat little bowl indoors where you can truly appreciate their fleeting beauty.

Vase of winter scented shrubs

The lemony-yellow sweet-pea flowers smelt, well, flowery; the bells on Clematis cirrhosa ‘Balearica’ were citrusy, the Sarcococca by the front door was spicy, but really that was entirely enough sniffing for one January day.  It was time to snip off some stems of these dainties to join the irises in their little jug, and let their perfume intensify in the warm room while I settled down to a crossword and a glass of Chilean red.

What are your thoughts? Have we missed one of your favourite winter scents? We’d love to know…

NOTE BENE: We love writing our blog so if there is anything we can do to improve it that would make it more enjoyable for you, we’d be so pleased to know. Could you do our four question survey and ask anyone you know who likes gardening to do it as well? We’ll send a £30 online voucher code to spend with Sarah Raven, to one of our subscribers who does the survey before the end of the month. Thank you!

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9 Comments

    1. And Sue the nicest thing for us is being involved with other people who garden, so thank you so much for sending a comment. The lovely personalities it attracts is one of the best things about this hobby! Wishing you a super weekend, Caroline

  1. Daphne Odora lives just outside the gumboot door in a lovely sheltered spot and exudes a unique and delicious scent impossible to pass by without lifting a January spirit.

    1. That’s the perfect place for Daphne to live Jane, just where you can’t help passing her by whenever you put your gumboots on! Best wishes Laura

  2. Daphne is my top winter flowering shrub! I have 3 in my east-facing front garden and on a sunny day you can smell them all the way down the road – intoxicating! I also have one in the back garden, wouldn’t be without them. Incidentally, the pesky snails have chewed all the leaves off the back of one of them but it’s still flowering happily:)

    1. Yes they are hard to beat for the strength and depth of their scent, they used to have a clump of three, like yours, at Wisley and you could smell them long before you could see them. Those snails of yours are quite intrepid, taking on a shrub like that! Best wishes Laura

    1. So glad that everyone is coming forward with their favourites after E and C were making out that I was the weird one for appreciating winter scented shrubs! Coronilla is a great little shrub, but I never seem to be able to keep it happy for more than a year or two before it starts to sulk, perhaps it doesn’t like my acid soil….sounds like yours is very happy though Angela. Best wishes Laura

  3. What about sarcocca (spelling!)? I have two – one in full sun, the other in dappled shade and both thriving and sweetly scenting the air. However I do agree Daphne is the best… Greatly enjoy the3growbags – thanks ladies. Janie

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