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 but it is rather tender for cold gardens here. There are some very fine specimens at Knoll Gardens, Poole, Dorset which is renowned for ornamental grasses but also has lots of less common hardy shrubs and trees too.
Christmas box [Sarcococca] is not really a box plant 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 extremely powerful scent.
In fact many of the winter flowering plants have subtle blooms produced en masse but very strong and often sweet scent to attract pollinating insects.
Honeysuckles of the climbing type have finished flowering till spring but some shrubby ones will be star 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 but also bring that intoxicating scent right up close to the house!
Again a plant that is not truly a climber but grows well when trained as such; Winter flowering jasmine [Jasminum nudiflorum] is already flowering and will continue right through until spring.
The bright lemon yellow single blooms show up well on bare leafless green stems.
This is another contender for a north or east facing wall [but will grow happily just about anywhere].
Viburnums and Skimmia
Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’ grows tall and flowers as the leaves fall off. The evergreen Viburnum tinus has no scent but has very showy flowers, especially if you plant the shorter ‘Eve Price’ variety.
Skimmia are showy plants in winter but do not produce winter flowers. It is their showy flower buds that look so good in winter.
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 on 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.
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.