Thursday 23 March 2017

Spring bouquet: Diarmuid Gavin's to fragrant flowering shrubs

Lift your spirits for spring with my pick of the top fragrant flowering shrubs

White cherry blossom
White cherry blossom

Diarmuid Gavin

Driving through the countryside with the windows open, the ­glorious coconut scent of gorse fills the air. The bushes are ­covered with bright yellow flowers trailing a golden blaze across the hills. Warm weather and sunshine are coaxing other buds to blossom - forsythia and kerria are also bringing sunbeams of ­yellow into the hedgerows. Spring ­flowering shrubs and trees are invaluable plants for the garden, preceding the great burst of flowering from herbaceous plants. They provide structure, colour, foliage, scent and flowers, and the really special ones can become your focal point for this time of year. So here's my pick of the best:

Osmanthus delavayi

Currently smothered in small white tubular flowers which create a cloud of fragrance to walk through. An evergreen shrub with small dark green serrated leaves, it can be a great hedging plant or planted near a pathway or entrance. Its arching habit also makes it a good standalone shrub. Happy in the sun or shade, it does well in most soils. Clip if required after flowering.

Rhododendron barbatum

A most elegant rhodo with crimson flowers held aloft, handsome foliage - the stems have barbs or bristles hence the name - and notably ornamental bark, smooth and peeling in reddish and purple tones. It will eventually form a small tree and needs an acidic soil, ideally in a woodland garden where taller trees will shelter it from prevailing winds.

Prunus Tai Haku

The Great White Cherry (pictured) is out and has the largest flowers of all the cherries. It's a dramatic two or three weeks while this is in blossom. If you have the space, plant in the sunshine in well-drained soil. Its shallow rooting will lift a lawn if planted in the centre and is definitely not suitable near paving for this reason.

Chaenomeles 'Pink Lady'

Flowering quinces look best trained horizontally on a fence. Left to grow untamed as a bush, they can be a bit shapeless. Deep pink flowers will mature to green fruit which can be turned into jelly. Annual tight pruning after flowering is necessary to keep strong horizontal lines.

Cercis chinensis ­'Avondale'

If pink is your colour, the Chinese redbud is a must! A magnificent display of deep pink flowers on bare stems in spring will stop you in your stride. It doesn't require pruning and hates to be moved so be sure to plan in the right place first time. It shouldn't be fed artificial fertiliser as this can damage its root system. Very pretty heart-shaped leaves will follow the colourful flowers.

Exochorda 'The Bride'

An aptly named shrub, it looks like the full skirt of a bridal dress when it's smothered in large white flowers on arching stems that reach the ground. As a focal point, it will dazzle for around six weeks from April.

Halesia carolina

I don't often come across the snowbell tree but when I do, I think it should be planted more often. Stand underneath it and gaze up at the bell-shaped pure white flowers. Preferring neutral to acid soil, this is an excellent choice for a small garden.

Spiraea Arguta

This deciduous shrub bursts into clusters of flowers along arching stems, earning its common name of Bridal Wreath. It's reliably gorgeous at this time of year and easy to grow on most soils - just remember to clip back stems after flowering to ensure a great display every year.

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