The Scented Garden, Part Four: Winter

Winter Garden

As crisp nights precede frosty mornings, the winter garden, with its bones laid bare, takes on a spectral air. This beauty comes at a cost, as tender plants recoil from winter’s icy grip, and other plants simply lie dormant until the warmer weather returns. However, the winter garden is not completely barren. Some plants continue to thrive, even producing gentle flowers, which, as you brush past, surprise and delight you with their soft fragrance.

Dainty aconites are among the first bulbs to push through the cold soil, compatriots of snowdrops and crocuses in heralding the spring. Winter aconites, part of the buttercup family, form a joyful carpet of scented yellow once they are established, their honeyed fragrance acting as a siren call to bees seeking an early pollen source. Primroses (Primula vulgaris) also begin to emerge in woodland areas, their five petalled flower heads adding a soft blur of pastel amongst the decaying leaves. Their gentle presence often indicates an area of ancient woodland so keep an eye out when walking for these special places.

Shrubs offer a greater impact of fragrance than the tiny new buds of spring. Fragrant sweet box (Sarcococca rustifolia) lives up to its name, with white flowers bearing a fragrance reminiscent of honeysuckle and jasmine, powerful enough to stop you in your tracks. The slow growing shrub follows up this floral display with an encore of black berries, wonderfully generous for a plant living in shade.

For sweet fragrance, several varieties of Mahonia are famed for their spikes of yellow flowers that bear a delicate scent similar to that of Lily of the Valley, while the deciduous shrub Viburnum bodnantense 'Dawn’ is also a popular specimen, its dense clusters of dark pink flowers scenting the garden from November until March. Plant near a pathway in sun or partial shade to fully appreciate the fragrance.

Another vibrant shrub, providing both bright colour and distinctive scent, is the witch hazel, Hamamelis Mollis Jermyns Gold. Each flower head is assembled from four, bright yellow ribbon-like petals, slightly curled like lemon zest and tinted red at the base. This is such a charming plant, adding a flash of golden vibrancy to the winter garden. For something rather special, Edgeworthia Chrysantha Grandiflora is also an interesting addition, with bare stems boasting strange looking, furry white knobbly buds which erupt into beautiful yellow flowers bearing the scent of cloves. It forms the perfect example of how to add interest, colour and fragrance to the late winter garden using just one plant.