Between minus double-digits and torrential rain it’s been hard to catch those first scents of our New Year gardens so far in 2023. But on our Zoom call this week we laughed about this post on winter scent from a few years back and wondered if you would too…
I can’t believe my sisters sometimes….! When I proposed our next post should be about winter scented shrubs there was palpable apathy from the pair of them: ‘nothing much smelling in my garden at the moment’, honestly – what lightweights!
They are both missing out on one of the highlights of the gardening year. I love perambulating my garden in February, hands clasping a hot drink, visiting each of my winter beauties in turn and soaking up their delicious fragrance.
My first port of call is always the tall gangly rosemary ’Miss Jessop’s Upright’ by the front door. Lovely all year round, running my hand up its stems to release that wonderful spicy scent is especially welcome in winter and I popped a sprig of it into our Christmas shop orders this year (by the way a big thank you to everyone who supports our online shop – its modest profits help defray the costs of running our blog).
My next winter stars are honeysuckle Lonicera x purpusii ‘Winter Beauty’ which frames our garden gate and greets all visitors with a hefty waft of perfume; Hamamelis ‘Aphrodite’ (see our feature picture above) 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.
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 Hart love that word) insect life such as wintermoths so I planned 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.
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.
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 frustrated.
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 x purpusii ‘Winter Beauty’.
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.
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
with its branches festooned in pink and white frosting, pumping out her expensive scent among the drab winter twigs like a pantomime duchess at a Parish Council Meeting. 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 fairly sparse bug-traffic to notice you.
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.
The bells on Clematis cirrhosa var. balearica were citrusy, the Sarcococca by the front door was spicy, but really that was entirely enough sniffing for one February 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…
Many of the plants mentioned here also appear in our ’75 best plants for autumn and winter ’ list.
In the meantime Louise has chosen a stunning grass that livens up her daily garden walk as her Great Plant this Month, click on the box below to find out what it is.
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