Winter Flowering Wonders
A winter wander
inspires Rosemary Verey to consider her favourite plants
for that all-important colour and fragrance to brighten
up cold, frosty days
Why not plan a winter
walk around your garden so that at every turn or pausing
place there will be a scent to greet you. Remember that
some flowers hold fast to their scent and you must almost
bury your nose in them to discover their fragrance.
Others are more outgoing and will astonish you as they
waft their perfume for several yards towards you.
My suggestion is that you make a list of the winter-flowering
that will grow well in your soil, those you know you
must have, then add some unusual ones that will surprise
you and your visitors. Start planning by your front
door, which may be on the shady side of your house.
Plant a Sarcococca
hookeriana var. digyna on each side. They are low-growing
and their small white flowers almost hide themselves
under the slender alternate pointed leaves. It is their
fragrance that catches your attention, flowering from
Christmas until March. They will add architectural interest
used each side of the steps or on the corner of a border.
East walls can be
difficult because the early sun on a frosty morning
can damage precocious flowers. Think of the viburnums,
their scent rivalling that of any daphnes. Viburnum
x bodnantense 'Deben', raised by Notcutt’s
nurseries, flowers before shedding its leaves. It is
vigorous and hardy,
with masses of frost-resistant flowers between late
autumn and winter. V.
farreri (fragrans) a 9-12 ft shrub has pink buds
opening to reveal white flowers with an almond scent.
South and south-east
facing walls are easier to cover. The ivory white wintersweet
Chimonanthus praecox and the yellow C.
p. ‘Grandiflorus’ are outstanding as
winter-flowering shrubs. The rounded buds open to reveal
starry yellow flowers with central rings of shorter
purple petals. Richly scented, a few sprigs will fill
a room with their presence.
winter-flowering clematis for any wall (except north)
cirrhosa var. balearica. Reaching 6 metres (20 feet),
it must have support. A good place is on your house
by a door, then you can watch it carefully as the small
creamy-white scented bells decide to open in January.
Never be tempted to prune back the long bare arms, which
may get in your way and look untidy. The flower buds
will develop and open on these. Prune it after it has
given you its full display of flowers.
Daphnes are accommodating
and will fit into a space in your border, but they are
not long-lived. Nurture any seedlings you find around
the parent plant of Daphne
mezereum. One of my less usual treasures is D.
laureola, the spurge laurel, with yellow-green tubular
blooms in February and March. They seed in unexpected
places and must be kept for the benefit of winter moths,
which come to pollinate them as the light fades.
I have chosen three
less-known shrubs. Oemleria
cerasiformis (Osmaronia c.) flowers in February
and March when racemes
of fragrant white flowers, with green calyces and a
distinctive almond scent. We have it beside the temple
where we sit in winter and it perfumes the air and the
gardener has to be persuaded that it is not the scent
of the azara growing nearby. I recommend it for every
garden, planted where the midday sun will catch it and
bring out its strong scent. Two azaras, A. integrifolia
and A. petiolaris are reliable winter flowerers, both
with yellow blooms. They can be grown freestanding or
against a wall. They are easily recognized by their
leaves: one very small leaf nestles between the shrub’s
stem and the axil
of the main leaf.
I wonder if some
plants fail to become popular because of their tongue
twisting names. Could Abeliophyllum
distichum be one of these? It came from Korea in
1924 where it is known as white forsythia. The best
place for it in your garden is in front of a south-facing
wall. The honey-scented flowers open as the crocuses
do so will entice the bees from their pollen gathering.
If you decide to
be even more adventuresome and are prepared to give
some winter protection, then here are a few names. Acacia
dealbata, the mimosa you will get in a florist’s
winter bunch. William Frederick, the garden architect
from Pennsylvania, says every garden should have Magnolia
denudata (syn. heptapetala)</*P>. Plant several
mahonias in different aspects, M.
lomariifolia and M. x media varieties raised by
Lionel Fortescue. Arbutus
x andrachnoides and Buddleja auriculata are doubtfully
hardy, the latter should brought into a greenhouse as
frost sets in. Crataegus monogyna ‘Biflora’
a form of the common
thorn is the Glastonbury thorn legend has it that
Joseph of Arimathea thrust his hawthorn staff into the
ground, where it immediately grew and flowers on Christmas
See also the following
reprinted with premission from Greenfingers.com