Earlier this week we had what the media love to call ‘Blue Monday’ – the supposedly-most-depressing day of the year. Gardeners could be forgiven getting swept up in the sentiment but in fact, winter has some real gems to share…
The first time I smelt wintersweet I knew I was hooked. It was a dull, damp winter’s day; I was a plant-mad kid dragging my granny around Kew Gardens, both of us trying hard to appreciate the outdoor parts as much as the cosy glasshouses.
“Smell this”, she ordered, stopping suddenly and bending some unpromising-looking twiggy branches down to my height. I was transfixed. Intoxicated even. Somewhere between cloves, violets and bergamot – a scent so complex and vibrant that words fail it. All this from smallish waxy yellow flowers on a rather ordinary-looking shrub.
Winter, so often dismissed as “off season” for gardeners, is full of delights such as wintersweet (Chimonanthus praecox), if only you know where to look.
Two of my favourite scented winter plants:
Winter Snowball Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’ – a reliable performer with sweetly-scented flowers in spells through from early winter right through until spring. Good in sun or part shade, any soil. Easier to grow than wintersweet with showier flowers.
Iris unguicularis – this lovely evergreen iris has bright blue-mauve flowers in the coldest months of the year. They have a wonderful perfume; fruity, almost like cherry pie. When I was working in the garden in Provence it grew everywhere, and I grew to love it. Plant it by a sheltered south wall and don’t be afraid to pick a few flowers for indoors where they’ll be even more appreciated.
Getting the most out of scented winter plants
Plant them by a path or doorway so you can appreciate their scent… when it’s cold you need to get close up! Put some evergreen plants nearby to give them a backdrop, for example the Strawberry tree, Arbutus unedo. Plant them in sheltered spots so the fragrance is not lost.
And finally, take time to enjoy them. A cup of tea and a wander round the garden on a sunny winter’s day, sniffing the scents of the season, is much cheaper than a holiday abroad, and is just as an effective way of lifting the spirits. Until next time – Happy Gardening!