Great Winter Flowering Shrubs
Great winter flowering shrubs can shorten winter!
Is that overstating it?
Well perhaps, but it can certainly make those dark dank days of winter more bearable!
It will be months before we will see spring flowering Magnolias, Rhododendrons and Azaleas back in bloom. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t still have colour in our gardens!
Because there are plenty of shrubs and a few climbers that wait until winter to bloom!
Right now we have Mahonias in bloom with their showy strings of lily of the valley scented yellow flowers. They’re set above bold and attractive evergreen leaves.
Mahonias are worthy of a place in every garden but do particularly well in town.
The varieties ‘Charity’ and ‘Winter Sun’ have been flowering for several weeks already.
I’ve noticed a few Mahonia japonica – also strongly scented – is joining the party!
I saw beautiful Mahonia x lomariifolia at the superb Lan Su Chinese Garden in Portland, Oregon a couple of years ago. However it’s rather tender for cold gardens here. There are some very fine specimens at Knoll Gardens, Poole, Dorset which is renowned for ornamental grasses. This garden also has lots of less common hardy shrubs and trees.
Christmas box [Sarcococca] is not really a box plant [Buxus] but looks very similar.
It doesn’t suffer from the box blight disease which is decimating so many neat box hedges and topiary plantings.
This compact, easy to grow evergreen shrub has an extremely powerful scent.
In fact many of the winter flowering plants have subtle blooms produced en masse which are very strongly scented. This helps them to attract pollinating insects.
Honeysuckles -of the climbing type- have finished flowering till spring but some shrubby ones will start to flower soon.
Lonicera purpusii ‘Winter Beauty’ is exceptionally good!
When you look closely at individual blooms you will recognise the typical honeysuckle shape. As you get close, you will be enchanted by its powerful honeysuckle scent.
Growing to 2.5 metre high and the same width, this needs some space to develop. Nevertheless, after blooming it can be dramatically reduced in size by heavy pruning without losing next winter’s blooms.
‘Winter Beauty’ can also be trained onto a north or east facing wall to keep its vigour in check.
That will also bring that intoxicating scent right up close to the house!
Jasminum nudiflorum or Winter Jasmine is already flowering and will continue right through until spring.
Here’s another plant that is not truly a climber. And this one grows well when trained as such.
The bright lemon yellow single blooms show up well on bare leafless green stems.
This is another good plant for a north or east facing wall but will grow happily just about anywhere in the garden.
Viburnums and Skimmia
Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’ grows tall and flowers as the leaves fall off. Flowers appear throughout winter and are strongly scented.
The evergreen Viburnum tinus is not scented but has very showy flowers. I recommend the shorter ‘Eve Price’ variety. This can be grown as an informal hedge or planted to obscure the bins.
Skimmia are showy plants in winter but do not produce winter flowers. It is their showy flower buds that look so good in winter. I’ve devoted a blog to Skimmia here.
The Second Half of Winter
Once we get into the New Year other shrubs start to bloom.
Witch hazels [Hamamelis] have incredibly hardy winter blooms and sweet scent too.
There are many varieties other than the superb Chinese witch hazel [Hamamelis mollis].
I would especially recommend out ‘Pallida’, ‘Jelena’ and ‘Arnold’s Promise’.
That Californian native Garrya elliptica is not especially colourful. But the long catkins makes it popular with flower arrangers. The male variety ‘James Roof’ is the best! Garrya grows well against a north facing wall.
Winter flowering heathers are arguably the most reliable of all plants to cheer up a winter garden.
They are also long flowering and low maintenance plants that are easy to grow.
The winter flowering varieties don’t mind the free lime that many of us have in our soils. But all heathers grow better where the soil has a neutral or lower pH.
Of course, heathers are loved by both hive and bumblebees and give a much needed boost to these insects when they venture out in mid-winter.
More on winter flowering heathers here.
Far from being a flowerless time, your garden in winter can be full of colour and subtle scents too!
What other winter flowering shrubs do you grow in your garden?
In your view, which of these has the best scent?
Birch trees look great in winter and I’ve written about an amazing collection of them at Stone Lane Gardens on the edge of Dartmoor here.