Wednesday 21 March 2018

Gardening with Diarmuid Gavin: 'Your garden can give off the most wonderful fragrance this season'

With the right planting, your garden can give off the most wonderful fragrance this season

Flowering Daphne
Flowering Daphne
Spring bulb

Diarmuid Gavin

An exotically-clad Jean Byrne from the Met office is on the TV telling me to cover up if I'm planning to leave the house. The sharp cold of winter has now arrived, and in places a sprinkling of frost can be found.

Winter is entering its freezing stage and alongside the cold comes a new sense of clarity in the garden. Freezing temperatures can kill off some pests and diseases and so help with a garden cleansing process.

When it's sunny at this time of the year the air can seem clean and piercing, and while during spring and early summer a heady mix of scents can hover above colourful borders, in winter, the beauty of individual smells linger longer, sole perfumed notes, a delicate winter gift from the garden. One theory as to why this season's plant scents can be so seductive is because there are less insects in the winter, plants have to exude an extra strong scented smell to attract those pollinators who are around.

We're used to colour, flower, foliage and even interesting bark enchanting us through all seasons, but it is magical scent that seems to delight us as the icing on the cake. Achieving it, and thereby adding that extra layer of interest in your garden, can be very simple.

Make a start by planting hyacinths in pots (so they can be enjoyed both indoor or outside). Their perfume is more than a match for their sometimes blatant colours.

The more subtle Wintersweet (Chiomonanthus praecox) is a wall shrub that will forever remind me of my Botanic Garden college days. Nondescript for most of the year, from December to February it proves to be a showstopper with sulphur yellow flowers appearing on its bare wintry stems. It can take a while to establish, but it's worth the wait.

If you have space for a small tree, maybe in your front garden and love the notion of visitors being welcomed to your home in winter with a lingering front door vanilla smell, plant an Azara microphylla. Its scent emerges from tiny greenish yellow flowers in late winter and early spring. Its form is a small evergreen shrub or tree with small dark green leaves and, as an added bonus, it will tolerate some shade.

More space is required for another of my favourites, the mimosa tree, Acacia dealbata. It has beautiful silvery fern-like foliage, and is covered in remarkably vivid yellow pompom flowers in January with the most delicious fragrance. It can be a bit tender, especially when young, although it seems to get hardier with age, it may only be suitable for the south and west of the country or in a conservatory. It does need some shelter as its susceptible to wind rock and should be purchased as a small plant, allowing its root system to establish without the aid of staking.

There are plenty of winter-scented shrubs to choose from. Let's start with the shrub form of Honeysuckle - Lonicera standishii. This is covered in small white tubular flowers which emit a lovely fragrance in winter. Daphne (pictured main) is of course the queen of perfumes in winter with D. 'Jacqueline Postill' being a star performer and needs to be planted near a path where you appreciate it up close and drink in the intensely fragrant flowers which are purple pink outside and white within.

Viburnum farreri, with its white, tinged with pink flowers, has an exquisite bouquet. Chinese witchhazels have most unusual spidery flowers in acidic yellows, coppery oranges and reds. Borne on bare branches in winter, they are not only unusual but also have a spicy smell.

Or why not consider an aromatic hedge? Osmanthus would be a good choice - it has glossy holly-like leaves and has small fragrant white flowers borne in autumn. Or for that most difficult of gardening areas - dry shade - consider planting Sweet box (Sarcococca hookeriana). This is a small evergreen shrub whose white flowers in winter exude a surprisingly intoxicating smell despite their dainty appearance. In an exposed or coastal area, Elaeagnus ebbingei is a large evergreen shrub whose cream coloured flowers in autumn are also very fragrant.

If you are gardening on a smaller scale with pots or even a window box, I would suggest planting the beautiful winter flowering violet Iris unguicularis and some scented winter pansies.

This week in the garden:

Take a walk through your garden and see what seeds or berries are available to collect and keep for spring sowings.

Have you got all your garden furniture indoors or covered up for the winter? In the garage, these can be cleaned or rubbed with oil as necessary or painted.

Acers and birches which need pruning should be done now to avoid risk of bleeding. In general they don’t require any pruning but if there is a branch that is in an awkward position or is diseased, now is the time to give it the chop.

There’s still a fair amount of weeds in the ground — dig them out or spray them off so you don’t have to face them in the spring.

Retailers are discounting bulbs now so grab a few and get them in the ground.

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