We believe every garden needs fragrance and not just in summer when roses, jasmine and lilies fill the air with their glorious perfumes but all year round and particularly in sleepier months like January. It’s a month when in many gardens colour is limited, and a beautiful scent is an unexpected treat taking you by surprise and intoxicating your senses. Fragrant plants switch a light on from the past evoking long lost memories and transporting us to other places and times.
Perhaps somewhat surprisingly winter plants are among the most highly scented of all garden plants with flowers that often seem insignificant but pack a punch in the fragrance stakes to attract the few pollinating insects around at that time of year.
Whatever size garden you have, we'd suggest you try to put one or two of these winter gems into your borders or pots and ideally plant them by entrances and doorways or paths to derive the most pleasure from their heady scents.
We'd like to share a few favourites of ours with you, and guarantee you won’t be disappointed; they’ll give you great pleasure and bring your January garden alive for years to come.
We might be a little biased with this one (Clive Groves curates the national collection) however the sweet violet really comes into its own this time of year. Small but proud and packing a wonderfully nostalgic scent, the violet likes to grow in a deciduous environment (think hedgerows and English woodlands). The key to fantastic flowers is to make sure they get plenty of winter sun (leaves off the trees) and a nice bit of summer shade to keep the leaf growth to a minimum.
Often called Sweet Box, Sarcococca confusa is one of those must haves if you want to create some winter fragrance. Like so many fragrant winter flowering plants the small unassuming white flowers are filled the to the brim with a lovely vanilla fragrance. Particularly useful as a plant that tolerates dry shade but tends to produce more fragrance if it can be put in more moist conditions. Sweet box is also great for putting in a container so you can put them right next to your door to get maximum impact.
Lonicera × purpusii ‘Winter Beauty’
From early December even into April, this prolific winter bush honeysuckle opens its creamy flowers on bare stems, and the scent from this deciduous or semi-evergreen shrub will certainly stop you in your tracks. An invaluable addition to the garden in winter it can look a bit insignificant when the green leaves appear, so it is best planted with a summer–flowering Viticella clematis to give summer interest.
Viburnum × bodnantense ‘Deben’
A Viburnum with pink buds that open to white flowers over a remarkably long period, sometimes starting as early as October and continuing to April and it has a heavenly sweet scent with hints of cloves.
Happy in most fertile soils in sun, protection from icy winds is helpful.
Chimonanthus praecox ‘Luteus’
The common name, Wintersweet, says it all really. When trained against a south or west-facing wall, where the sun-ripened shoots will bloom most prolifically, the spicy, sophisticated and sweet scent of the clusters of unmarked yellow flowers wafts around the garden in late winter. Cut a few stems for indoors, and the fragrance will fill the whole room. Some people liken the smell to lemon lipstick!
The foliage is aromatic, too. It appreciates well drained soil.
Daphne bholua 'Jacqueline Postill'
Clusters of small, sweetly scented, deep pink buds open in January and February and are followed by rounded, purple-black berries. This choice deciduous or semi-evergreen shrub thrives in a sunny, sheltered position. This plant is very hard to propagate and slow growing, but well worth the patience and investment.
Fantastic architectural plants Mahonia’s make a wonderful statement in any border all year round but it’s in the winter that these stately plants provide us with, somewhat inconspicuous yellow flowers but boy do they pack a punch. Some say they smell like lily of the valley but we think the fragrance is much nicer and sweeter. They have glossy, spikey leaves that often take on purple tints when the weather turns cold. As a little bonus the flowers have small purple fruit that the birds adore.
Try Mahonia japonica or Mahonia x media ‘Winter Sun’
Finally, our last tip would be to make sure you position one of these winter-scented plants in the front garden so that on cold January days when you don’t venture into the back garden you and your visitors can still enjoy the wonderful scent as you go to and fro from the front door.