At no time in the cycle of the seasons do you get that feeling of ‘here we go again’ so strongly as in winter. For one thing it is very quiet; there are few interruptions or distractions. Friends and visitors keep away - probably they don’t want to be shaken from their illusion that in your garden it is always summer. We hear and read a lot about the garden in winter but for me, it gives me little actual pleasure. Nearly all pleasurable thoughts are looking forward, in noting bulbs pushing through and the numbers of dormant flower buds on shrubs and trees and so on.
But there are a handful of attractions in the garden even in January. Winter honeysuckles are quite unlike those that flower in summer, the only similarity being their powerful fragrance. Currently holding centre stage in my garden is Lonicera x purpusii ‘Winter Beauty’. This is the best cultivar and is the one given the Award of Garden Merit by the Royal Horticultural Society. It makes a large bushy shrub 2M high and more across. It is deciduous, which is just as well as the leaves are dull. Best planted in a forgotten corner, ignored until January and February when a great gust of airborne fragrance grabs your attention.
The other shrubs about to show off are the Witch Hazels, notably the Chinese Witch Hazel, Hamamelis mollis, whose flowers, incredibly, seem impervious to frost. And they are strongly scented on the air whenever temperatures rise a little. The clone ‘Pallida’ is the one to go for, the ribbon-like petals are half as long again and, being a lighter and more luminous shade, show up more readily on dull days and at a distance.
The other scented gem of mid-winter is the Sarcococca, known as Sweet or Christmas Box (daft; it’s not a Box at all). I rave about it every year as is scents the air several metres away. There is an intriguing difference between flowers that smell fab when you stick your nose in them (roses and old-fashioned carnations, for example) and those that scent the air all around. Perfumers use the word ‘sillage’ to describe the trail of scent left behind when someone wearing perfume walks past: very different from the scent you might get as you snuggle into the neck of a loved one. BTW – ‘sillage’ should not be confused with ‘silage’, which has a very different smell!
Happy plant sniffing, Giles Derry
Dates for your diary
Tuesday 14 January 7.30pm in Chieveley Village Hall. Last January our talk was about keeping hens in your garden, this year ... Jan Doyle (from Newbury Beekeepers) will talk to us about the joys and challenges of amateur beekeeping. If you are interested in keeping bees or learning more about the life, lifecycle and garden benefits of these pollinators, do join us.
Tuesday 11 February 7.30pm in Chieveley Village Hall. Marcus Dancer is returning to tell us about Trees and shrubs for winter interest. We all know challenge of keeping the garden colourful and interesting at this time of year. Join us for ideas and inspiration by the bucketful.
Guests and non-members (both £2) are always welcome.