Winter scented flowers during lockdown
Winter scented flowers during the Coronavirus lockdown seem more intense.
As I take my daily exercise I’ve been struck by how important plant scent is.
My daily walk takes me past gardens in the village and I’m often stopped in my tracks by the sweet scent of a plant.
Here are five that I would strongly recommend to you for your garden!
This plant has the scent of Lily of the Valley and like that plant it too has small bell shaped flowers. However, unlike Lily of the Valley, the blooms of Mahonia japonica are a soft sulphur yellow and not white.
The dainty looking yellow flowers are on stems about 15 cm long. These flowering stems erupt from the top of most shoots and weep down over the evergreen spiky leaves.
Always a magnet for early bees that venture out at this time of the year the berries that follow ripen a rich blue colour.
These berries are edible, juicy and quite sweet. The berries of a close relative of this species were eaten by native Americans on the West Coast of USA. However Mahonia japonica is from the Far East and from China. Blackbirds feast on the berries as soon as they ripen.
Whilst Mahonia has showy flowers the Winter-Sweet shrub (Chimonanthus praecox) has quite hidden winter scented flowers.
But what it lacks in showiness it more than makes up for with the most delicious sweet and spicy scent!
The flowers appear from January onwards and are pale waxy-yellow in colour. Looking closely you’ll discover that the centre of each bloom is stained purple and in discovering this you’ll be bowled over by the intensity of this fragrance!
Young plants are shy to flower unless that is you invest in an often hard to find grafted form. Seed raised plants – the most common method of propagation – will need to grow through the juvenile phase before they are able to bloom.
The Witch Hazel is unlike our native hazel which is also in flower in winter. The witch hazel (Hamamelis) has dainty strap like petals that remind me of orange and lemon zest!
Because there are so many winter scented flowers on witch hazel they can be very showy.
Clusters of these yellow, orange or red flowers cover the bare branches from January to March. When temperatures drop below freezing these spider-like blooms merely roll up and wait for the temperature to rise again.
Just like the other winter scented flowers that I’ve encountered on my walk the witch hazel has sweetly scented blooms too.
Most Hamamelis have good leaf colour in autumn before dropping their leaves for winter.
There are several shrubby rather than climbing honeysuckles but not all are winter flowering or even sweetly scented.
Lonicera x purpusii, standishii and the aptly named Lonicera fragrantissima have the winter scented flowers.
All are very easy to grow and very winter hardy.
They do require quite a lot of space but fortunately don’t mind being cut back hard. If this is done in spring then no flowers will be lost in the next winter as flowers are produced on new shoots as well as on old.
Flowers are relatively small but what they lack in size they more than make up for in scent! They all have the typical climbing honeysuckle scent which will remind you of good scents to come later in the year.
Christmas Box (Sarcococca) is a Marmite plant – you either love it or you hate it!
The winter scented flowers of this little evergreen shrub are certainly powerful. In fact they are so strong that they are too powerful for some gardeners.
If you pass a garden on your winter lockdown walk and it has a Sarcococca flowering in it you will certainly know about it!
Incidentally, there are some interesting facts about Marmite here.
But back to this plant! It’s odd that it’s called Christmas box since it invariably waits until after Christmas to flower. It then almost hides its flowers under its glossy neat leaves.
So what do some people dislike about this useful shade tolerant evergreen shrub?
Well to some people the scent is just too strong and reminds them of the smell of cat’s urine!
For me Christmas Box is a very useful scented plant to have in the garden since it is very shade tolerant, can be clipped, grown in a container and is very trouble free.
I hope that you’ll look for these plants when you take your lockdown walks in during the winter months.
I’ve written about other great winter flowering plants here. You may see some of these too!