Melanie Dool’s gardening column in association with Orchardstown Garden Centre
PLANTS that are fragrant did not evolve to please us humans but adapted over time to entice pollinating insects and, as you can imagine, during the winter there are fewer insects so that the fragrance from plants has to be that much stronger during that period.
It would be simplistic to assume that our favourite plants have evolved to be cosy in our back gardens as nearly all have come from abroad during the last 200 years and have not had time to change so the plants that do well here are those that simply tolerate or adapt fast to our variable climate.
Our gardens are becoming smaller and as we do not spend much time there during the winter months we need to make the best use of our space so that with a careful bit of planning we can achieve the best of both worlds, by having a select few choice fragrant winter plants flowering during the duller months.
All the winter flowering plants that I mention are hardy and not much affected by harsh wind, rain or frost. I am including a few that can suffer damage in severe conditions but are able to recover quickly and flower again such as ‘Viburnum fragrans’ and autumn or winter flowering cherry ‘Prunus autumnalis’ and varieties. It is interesting that some flowers will protect themselves during adverse conditions by curling up into a smaller size, only to expand again once it becomes drier such as witchhazel -Hamamelis, snowdrops and some Daphne types.
The human ability to detect different levels of scent varies individually, but given a mild and still winter’s day, the strength of scent can be carried over a large area and is quite powerful.
Therefore, in conjunction with the limited area available, it is possible to have a small number of winter scented plants spaced out in strategic locations in your garden. The sight of anything in flower during the winter months is welcome and adding some scented plants can only be a big bonus. Place these plants where you can enjoy them as there is no point in placing them where the wind will carry the scent next door!
When writing these notes I am always conscious that most gardens are small to medium and,
as larger gardens can accommodate a wider variety of designs, features and plants, there are less restrictions to be taken into account. In this train of thought, we might be inclined to only plant dwarf growing plants in our smaller gardens, whereas that is not the way to go as it becomes unnecessarily restrictive on a number of highly desirable plants that we would miss out on.
I will restrict the winter scented shrubs from November until February but there is an overlap at either end with these plants and other suitable ones. Acacia, Camellia x vernalis ‘Yuletide’, Cercidiphyllum, Daphne, Hamamelis, Lonicera fragrantissima, Mahonia, Sarcococca, Skimmia, Viburnum and Ulex. Larger growing plants can be trained into whatever space you have available by pruning during the flowering period and enjoying the cut pieces indoors as a bonus. There are also smaller plants with scent and they include the snowdrop ‘Magnet’ or ’S. Arnott’, Iris unguicalaris ‘Walter Butt’ and Viola odorata.
TIP OF THE WEEK
I am not sure if this affects other people but when I see plants growing too close together I just want to move them further apart but this cannot be done during the growing season which annoys me. However, between now and April many plants can be carefully dug up and transplanted elsewhere.
This process can be done with most plants which are up to 3 years in the ground but it can be tricky after that as some plants will not respond to that treatment. If in doubt about moving a nice specimen just get advice before you do.