Flowering shrubs are perhaps no more welcome than in the winter months, with its bleak, short days and long nights, and when many plants are resting and bare. They command our attention and brighten our view, particularly when planted where their flowers are easily seen against a darker background such as a fence or evergreen hedge. If the blooms have attractive fragrance as well, this makes them all the more desirable, especially to the blind or partially sighted.
Winter heathers (Erica carnea)
These wonderful often fragrant shrublets have sadly been somewhat out of fashion in recent years, after a boom in the 60’s and 70’s. But I’m glad to say they are beginning to make a comeback, and rightly so, for their compact habit and valuable winter flowers make for a very useful and attractive plant. Being small, they make great winter pot and basket plants, where the extra height makes the scent all the more accessible when we breeze past. They also make good ground cover in acidic soils, and can cope with shade. The key to keeping them looking good and flowering well is a good trim all over in the spring after they have flowered. Take off about 1.5 – 2.5 cm of foliage.
Viburnum are a popular shrub in the UK thanks to their tough, hardy, resilient behaviour in almost any garden situation. The deciduous Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Charles Lamont’ gives excellent winter colour with pretty pink, heavily scented flowers, borne on the bare stems from November to March. It also makes good cut stems to enjoy in a vase indoors. Alternatively, for an evergreen winter flowering viburnum, try V. tinus; ‘Eve Price’, ‘Gwenllian’, and ‘French White’ are all good varieties for the garden.
Hamamelis is a beautiful larger winter-flowering shrub, commonly known as witch hazel. Its spicy fragrance and spidery flowers on bare stems in yellow, orange and reds make it a must for the winter garden. Try Hamamalis x intermedia ‘Pallida’ for one of the best yellows. It also happens to have the added bonus of good autumn colour.
Oh Daphne, one of my most favourite plants. It’s a tricky customer, but get it right and you will be rewarded with the most amazing heady fragrance from its clusters of white, pink tinged flowers atop evergreen foliage on most species. They need a sheltered position in light shade. Try Daphne odora ‘aureomarginata’, or if you come across the rarer Daphne bholua var. glacialis ‘Gurkha’ – deciduous back of the border plant with amazing sweet scent.
Aka wintersweet, in its summer clothes, Chimonanthus praecox is an unassuming shrub with long droopy leaves. Come winter, though, the leaves are gone and the bare branches throw out clusters of dangly, yellow star-shaped flowers that pack a perfumed punch. They are prized by flower arrangers who use their stems to fill the house with scent. Try ‘Grandiflorus’ which has pale yellow flowers with a purple heart.