Despite the cold days that can characterise February, there are some great winter-flowering plants that look at their best during this period. The milder spells we have during winter trigger these gorgeous plants to break cover and brave the cold. A great example of such a brave plant is Lonicera × purpusii 'Winter Beauty'.
This shrub is a type of honeysuckle, but is very different to the typical climbing forms – Lonicera is a very diverse genus and contains many shrubs including both evergreen and deciduous varieties. Lonicera ‘Winter Beauty’ is a deciduous shrub that is primarily grown for its small tubular white flowers, which have prominent yellow anthers and are borne in small clusters in the leaf axils along the bare stems. As with many winter-flowering shrubs the small white flowers are extremely fragrant and will fill your garden with a heavenly perfume.
As the flowers fade, the new leaves are produced and this is the best time of year to prune it. This Lonicera forms a large shrub and benefits from a quarter to a third of the older stems being removed every few years to promote new growth; the shrub can also be shaped at this time.
As with many large winter- and spring-flowering shrubs they can take up a lot of space in a border and look slightly dull during the summer months – to resolve this problem an annual climber such as morning glory (Ipomoea) can be grown through it. This is a clever way to maximise space as well as adding a splash of colour in the summer. As an annual climber it will be removed at the end of the growing season so it won’t do permanent damage to the shrub. Shrubs such as this Lonicera work best in a mixed border where other grasses and perennials can intermingle with them, but ideally try to position the shrub where you can admire its fragrance during winter.
At RHS Garden Hyde Hall you can find Lonicera × purpusii 'Winter Beauty' growing in the Hilltop Garden and the Queen Mother's Garden in mixed borders. It is an easy shrub to grow, and prefers an open, sunny site with well-drained moisture retentive soil.
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See plantsman Graham Rice's top 10 plants for winter fragrance