The scents of winter

Autumn's a busy time at RHS Garden Harlow Carr, with winter plants to enjoy and a frenzy of bulb planting...

Walking past the Viburnum x bodnantense this morning, I caught a whiff of its very strong, sweetly smelling aroma, which seemed accentuated by the cold. I thought to myself 'ha! winter is finally on its way...' They are an extremely good plant for providing winter nectar for insects and anything else on the wing, apart from looking startlingly good as the flowers come out – just as the shrub is losing its leaves – and it will stay in flower right through until spring.

Galanthus elwesiiI was heading towards an area of frenzied activity by the garden team and volunteers who were busy planting bulbs; this is an annual activity that always gets carried out now. Last week I was planting Galanthus elwesii (sometimes known as the 'giant snowdrop') in the kitchen garden. They were being planted in a ribbon through the rhubarb patch – I was strengthening the existing ribbon so it should look very good. They are also scented of honey; but it does take the contortionists among us to be able to get down there and smell them.

Although there is a lot of talk about planting snowdrops ‘in the green’ we do get very good results with the bulbs too; providing they come from a reputable supplier. Back on the main borders, Sarah the Team Leader was laying out many different varieties of Allium, which have become something of a feature all the way down the front of the beds here. She was planting 6 different varieties; and most of them were bulking up the existing cultivars already on there: A. ‘Mont Blanc’, A. hollandicum, A. nigrum, A. sphaerocephalon, A. cristophii and A. ‘Purple Rain’.

But one caught my eye in particular, which she explained was a new introduction called Allium ‘Red Mohican’ – when you looked at the picture it did indeed look exactly like it had a Mohican hair cut! With a shower of flowers bursting forth out of the top of the main flower heads like a fountain, and the ends of the flowers are tipped cream. I chuckled to myself – one to watch, I thought. The different cultivars flower at different times and add a valuable early colour to the main borders.

Harlow Carr's Erica 'Pink Sparkles'Containers everywhere are also being planted up with lovely spring bulbs, some have just been top dressed with grit to protect the bulbs from birds and small children’s inquisitive fingers, and others have been planted over the top of the forthcoming bulbs with a selection of winter flowering interest plants. The large zinc cubes at the front of house have got some winter flowering heathersErica 'Pink Sparkles' – in them to extend the season of interest whilst we’re waiting with excitement for those first new shoots of bulbs poking through in spring...

Get some advice and have a look at creating your own winter containers.

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