Add a new dimension to your garden by growing a parfumerie of scented winter flowers. These are the best blooms to plant right now.
Let’s face it, winter is not the most inspiring month in the garden. Growth is slow, the soil can be soggy and boggy, and there’s less to impress when it comes to blooms and edibles. One of my plant-loving pals even turns her back on her growing space during the cold months, choosing to go dormant until she falls in love with gardening all over again in spring.
There’s nothing wrong with a cosy dose of hibernation, but less can be more, even in gardens, which is why being hit by the intoxicating fragrance of one of these scented winter plants during the “off-season” becomes a seasonal treat to anticipate.
As well as being a mini-skirted redhead on Scooby Doo, Daphne is a winter princess in the garden. A small evergreen shrub that grows to 1.5m (if that), its waxy star-shaped flowers impart an irresistible spicy-sweet fragrance with a hint of citrus – cutting a sprig or two for a small vase or teacup is mandatory.
There are a number of varieties, from pink and white ‘Leucanthe’, pure white ‘Alba’ (pictured above) and striking ‘Perfume Princess’, which produces blooms right along the plant’s stems rather than just at the tips, like the other Daphnes do, and is the longest flowering. A woodland dweller, Daphne likes partial shade and will love you and leave you if planted in heavy, wet soils. It’ll happily grow in a large pot though.
Pretty much an ugly duckling of a green shrub for some of the year, wintersweet (Chimonanthus praecox) becomes a fragrant swan in the colder months, with a bewitching scent akin to violets mixed with allspice. I also adore the tiny wax-paper-like flowers that bloom on bare branches. ‘Grandiflorus’ has golden yellow blooms whereas ‘Luteus’ is a subtler pale yellow, but all possess a deep burgundy centre.
They generally grow 2-4m depending on variety. Plant them in a sunny spot where they can go incognito as leafy green backdrop shrubs in spring and summer, before taking the stage in winter. Then cut them for the vase and create a fragrant sculptural arrangement.
3. Algerian iris
Unlike its spring-flowering sisters, this wee purple and yellow cutie (Iris unguicularis) blooms in winter and has the added bonus of scent! Hailing from Algeria and other areas of the Mediterranean, it likes well-drained soil and is perfect for a dry, sunny spot against a wall. The flowers can be dwarfed by the grass-like clumps of foliage so don’t forget to look for them. Cut the honey-scented blooms when they’re still in bud as they don’t last long once fully open.
It may come as a surprise that these frilly-skirted flowers can be fragrant, as many of them aren’t. But plant a hedge of the kind that is and you’ll have your own wall of scent. ‘High Fragrance’ has sweet, spicy notes (the signature scent of many winter blooms, as you’ll have gathered by now), and opens up pale pink then fades to white. Many of the sasanqua camellia varieties (pictured above), such as ‘Cinnamon Cindy’ and ‘Fairy Blush’, are fragrant, but the lutchuensis species, which has small white blooms and yellow stamens, is the sweetest of them all, with a jasmine-like fragrance – look for pinky-white ‘Scentuous’.
The first time I caught a waft of Boronia megastigma it took me a week to hunt down the culprit. It’s no glamour puss, but its cup-shaped flowers, which are either all pink or brown with a golden underskirt, have an enticing citrus and freesia perfume, with a teasing “now you smell it, now you don’t” quality. These Western Australian darlings are pernickety about their conditions, and have shallow roots that dry out easily, so don’t beat yourself up if you fail to keep one alive – I can’t, but I buy one every year as a fragrant winter treat.