Wonder of winter fragrant plants
Any plant that would grace us with flowers during winter is to be cherished. Any plant that not only flowers in winter but also gives us scent to boot should be beloved. And a surprising number of these dark and dank day flowerers do just that. Many winter flowering plants simply wouldn't cut the mustard when held in comparison to their warm blooded summer counterparts. But they do flower in winter and this does make them all the more wondrous and for me essentially valuable as garden plants.
Chimonanthus praecox [wintersweet] is a case in point. If it was summer flowered 'only a mother could love it' but in the depths of winter I really love it. Its pale yellow waxy flowers are, in our climate, underwhelming and sparse to be honest but they carry the sweetest scent comparable to any heady summer fragrances. It's a plant that takes me back to my earliest beginnings in gardening and one that helped open the door on the wonderful world of plants for me. I go out every day when it's in flower for a reminiscent sniff and I'm sixteen again. There are named varieties but these often have less scent at the expense of slightly stronger flowers. Plant in a sunny sheltered position or train on a sunny wall.
Iris unguicularis [Algerian iris] is another plant that also takes me back. A native of Greece, Turkey and Tunisia what it is doing flowering in Ireland in winter has always baffled me. To see its delicate blue or white flowers only adds to the confusion as they look like they belong in a greenhouse so tender are they. In fact the flower buds are quite hardy to any frost but the open flowers are likely to wither if the temperatures drop. Once the weather warms they will go back to flowering again. Plant in well drained soil in sunny position where they are totally hardy. The grassy winter foliage while evergreen can be a little scruffy.
Sarcococca confusa [Christmas box] is a plant I would use for its charming glossy foliage alone, but it would it make its way into your summer gardens? The fact that it produces spidery white highly fragrant flowers as well, often followed by black berries is a bonus. It makes a small evergreen shrub and is very tolerant of shade. It can be slow to establish sometimes taking a couple of years before it really gets going.
Another spidery fragrant winter flowerer is the aristocratic small tree Hamamelis [witch hazels]. A full grown plant in full flower is a sight and smell to behold. There are many named varieties [cultivars] in colours of red [ Dianne and Carmine Red] orange [Jelena and Orange beauty] and yellow [Pallida and Arnold Primrose]. The yellow to my mind have the most fragrance but all Hamamelis also have excellent autumn leaf colour. Plant in a sunny or sun dappled sheltered position in good free draining soil and your witch hazel will grow into a large shrub or small tree.
Honeysuckle [Lonicera] is well know as a climber but there are also many shrubby honeysuckles and some are fragrant and winter flowering. Again I'm not sure they would gain pride of place in a small garden as they can be slightly straggly and untidy but as with their climbing relatives their scent is fabulous. Lonicera x purpusii 'Winter Beauty' and Lonicera fragrantissima are the most common.
Two plants that would be given pride of place even in a small garden are the sun seeking Abeliophyllum distichum, known as the white Forsythia, only it has fragrant white flowers. And the winter Daphnes, D. odora, D. bhuolua and D. mezerum all highly fragrant and loving deep soil in a semi shaded sheltered spot.
Other winter fragrant plants to consider if you want to treat yourself to a post Christmas splurge are Skimmia fragrans, although most Skimmias have a scent. Mahonia japonica a majestic foliage plant as well. Coronilla glauca is a little temperamental about when it flowers but I have seen it performing well this January. And last but by far from least the magnificent winter Viburnums, V. farreri and F. bodnantense which really will fill your garden with the welcome aroma of spring.