They may be small but boy do they pack a punch!
If you’ve ever walked along a path on a winter’s day and a sudden intoxicating scent hits your nostrils, then you will have come across one of these.
They appear quite insignificant by their appearance, but there underlies a tenacious attitude to take on the winter climate and bloom. As if perfectly created by a miniaturist, the heady scent of their blooms attracts the earliest of pollinators in a somewhat dull world at this time of year.
Most of the flowers aren’t what you would typically describe as conventionally beautiful but on closer inspection they reveal themselves in a glorious and somewhat quirky fashion.
Don’t waste the opportunity of planting a winter flowering shrub close to your doorway, so on arriving home you are surrounded by its warming sent or greeted on a cold frosty morning before you leave. Winter bulbs are also a delight and show such encouragement and determination as they push through the dark, cold soil showing that Spring is definitely on its way.
The choice of shrubs is large and varied, growing from large shrubs to small trees in height. Many can be successfully trained against a sheltered wall or fence. A carpet of small flowering bulbs such as snowdrops or cyclamen will grow so happily underneath deciduous shrubs. They will disappeared for another year by the time the unfurling leaves of their neighbours emerge.
Above – cyclamen and snowdrops
My garden at home just wouldn’t be complete without these go to favourites, they remind me that the worst of winter is nearly over and another year has begun.
Hamamellis or Witch hazel is also a long standing favourite. Unlike any other bloom in the garden they resemble tiny explosions like fireworks radiating outwards along the bare branches. The yellow blooms such as pallida are always the strongest scented.
Above right – Hamamellis japonica ‘Harry’
I’m a sucker for for these curious shrubs and have to have them is as many colours as I can find from the darkest of reds to the palest of yellows. They can eventually grow quite large and into a beautiful goblet shape. They also benefit by having one of the best Autumn colours in the garden.
Chimananthus praecox ‘Lutea’ has bell shaped waxy flowers that look quite unreal hanging down from bare branches. The spicy smell of this plant is quite remarkable and a must to have in the garden. It’s an untidy grower and quite uninteresting in the summer months with long pendular green leaves. But I do use this framework to my advantage and have trained it again a warm shelter wall and grown a Clematis though it branches for flowers in the late summer.
Above left – Rhododendron praecox. Above right – Chimanthus praecox ‘Lutea’
Rhododendron praecox is a happy bright looking bush at this time of year. Its tiny delicate rosy purple flowers really do brighten up the day. They happily grow underneath the oak trees in semi shade but they do love an acid soil and to be mulched to prevent the roots drying out.
I’m always a little bit sniffy about camellias. On the whole they are too showy for me. However there is one variety that I do adore which is Camellia japonica campsii ‘Alba’.
Above – Camellia japonica campsii ‘Alba’
The white double blossom is so pure that is sole my heart years ago. Camellias really do appreciate a moisture retentive acid soil and at my home, again they grow under the oak trees. The blossoms are sensitive to the weather and can become badly discoloured with frost until morning sunlight, so sheltered sport is best.
Daphne Bholua ‘Limpsfield’ is an evergreen shrub that stands tall and proud. This shrub has been amazing at home flowering for a least three months each year. The scent is beautiful, smelling like an expensive perfume. This is the favourite of my Daphnes.
Above left – Daphne Bholua ‘Limpsfield’. Above right – Edgeworthia chrysanthea
Chaenomeles x superba ‘Pink Lady’ or Flowering Quince is a deciduous shrub and I have a bit of a love hate relationship with it. I hate its natural habit which is to spread and it can look messy and thorny but I do adore its flowers.
Above – Chaenomeles japonica
So the way we get along get along is to prune it hard and train it into a fan shaped style against a wall. It’s such a rapid grower so continue to prune through out the summer removing any basal and breast wood growth and train in the lateral growth. This encourages more flowers each year. That seems to keep us both happy.!
Edgeworthia chrysantha . I first saw at Wisley and had to have one! The silvery buds were unfurling to a buttery yellow and were highly scented . They contrast so beautifully with the bare cinnamon coloured stems. I have to admit to killing a couple along the way. They do need shelter and I found they loved a sunny aspect, so they are planted on the terrace where the warmth back from the stonework seems to suit , expensive experiment over!
Finally my two favourite bulbs , well corms actually. Firstly Cyclamen coum. I adore this little plant.
Above – Cyclamen coum
They happily grow away underneath my deciduous Azalea in a moist retentive soil and create such a wonderful carpet of colour from pale pink to cerise , bobbing above the silvery patterned heart shaped leaves. They get very little care and attention but reappear like a long lost friend without fail every January.
Eranthis or Winter Aconite. These cheery little blooms appear to balance on top of a ruffle of green like that of a tudor day courtier.
Above – Winter Aconite
They grow well underneath the large rhododendrons in the garden. I plant them when green (a bulb which has flowered but still has green leaves) as I find I get better results in a moisture retentive soil and they push up through the leaf litter each spring was such a cheery disposition.
Have fun selecting and growing your favourite winter blooms. To see a good selection visit some beautiful winter gardens at RHS Wisley, Hiller Arboretum, near Winchester or National Trust – Mottisfont Abbey, Hampshire.