Although we have had the odd frosty day when my fingers have tingled as I have been scraping the car before coming into work, the winter so far has been generally mild (although we always remember those cold mornings!). The warmer than usual weather has triggered many winter flowering plants to burst into bloom early this year and they are already beginning to fill the air with their heavenly fragrance.
One of my all-time favourite winter flowering shrubs which is coming into bloom at RHS Garden Hyde Hall is Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill’*. This fantastic shrub will flower for many weeks and it exudes the most amazing perfume during this time. Its flowers are deep violet on the outsides of the petals and pale mauve/white within, all the time appearing to cling to the bare stems of this semi-evergreen shrub. Although it's quite slow growing, it's worth planting where you can easily admire it from the outset as it resents being moved. Ideally plant it near the front or back door where you will gain maximum appreciation of its wonderful scent.
Most winter flowering shrubs have a fantastic fragrance as they want to appeal to the few pollinators that are around during this cold, chilly time. Another great example of a fine winter flowering shrub is Chimonanthus praecox which produces pendent sulphur yellow flowers that have waxy petals. The flowers have a red centre and again cling to the stems and produce the most amazing fragrance.
Viburnums flower at many different times of the year and several are great winter flowering plants. Look out for Viburnum × bodnantense and V. farreri and their cultivars which all flower during the winter months.
At RHS Garden Hyde Hall we have a fine specimen of Viburnum × bodnantense ‘Charles Lamont’ that is always covered in flowers during milder periods of the winter. This shrub is 2m (6ft 6in) tall and produces masses of circular flowers that are bright pink in bud and fade to pale pink as they open, all the time producing a sweet fragrance.
Not all winter flowering shrubs are fragrant - such as the cornelian cherry, which is a type of Cornus (Cornus mas), grown for its small bright yellow ball shaped flowers which open along the stems, adding a fantastic splash of colour to the garden during January and February (see photo, top).
Although we may be in ‘mid-winter’ there are so many plants braving the cold it is well-worth seeking them out at your local nursery and adding one or two to your garden. Or, if you have run out of space, make a trip to Hyde Hall to see them in full flower.
* Please note that supplies of Daphne bholua 'Jacqueline Postill' are currently extremely limited in the UK. However there are a number of other similar cultivars which are more widely available, including D. bholua 'Limpsfield', along with seed-grown Daphne bholua. See the RHS Plant Selector for suppliers.