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This winter, many gardeners will trade in their outdoor interests for flannel sheets, a cup of hot chocolate, and a crackling fire in the fireplace. Time spent outdoors is typically exchanged for indoor projects and the landscape is forgotten about until the first vibrant days of spring. For the hardcore gardener, winter brings along one of the most anticipated events in the landscape. From December to early March, some of the most fragrant of all shrubs begin to shine. During the midst of winter shrubs like daphne, witchhazel, fragrant honeysuckle, paperbush, and wintersweet demand that the spotlight be shown upon them. These winter interest plants wait their turn while spring blooming azaleas, summer crepe myrtles, and fall camellias steal the show. Fragrant shrubs, trees, perennials, and annuals can be found throughout the year but winter seems to be the impact season for fragrance.
Daphne odora is quite possibly one of the most popular fragrant shrubs for the landscape. Daphne is a compact evergreen shrub reaching a height of three to four feet with an equal spread. White to rosy red flowers begin to show themselves in January and can persist through March. Daphne is best situated in a location with protection from winter sun and winds. Placing daphne in high traffic areas will allow people to enjoy the “fruit loops” like scent the flowers disperse. Variegated cultivars can be found with relative ease and add interest to the foliage with creamy colored leaf margins. The only drawback associated with daphne is the ability of the plant to wither and die with no perceivable explanation. One day a daphne can look its best and overnight the plant can have an attack of “sudden daphne death”. In order to evade the root rot fungus, excellent drainage is a must for daphne. Some gardeners go so far as to plant their specimen in a container to ensure the best of drainage and aeration to the root system. Some researchers point to viruses as the culprit in this unbelievably quick turnaround in plant health. This point should not deter homeowners from purchasing a daphne for the garden as the positive points far out weigh the negative.
Hamamelis x intermedia is a large deciduous shrub that can provide interest for the winter garden with both its odd flowers and fragrance. Witchhazel is best situated in the back of the shrub border as it can attain heights of fifteen to twenty feet. A specimen plant could be limbed up into tree form and add unique interest to the front of a landscape. One inch long petals of strap like flowers (closely resembling those of Loropetalum) appear in mid January and can last into March. Colors of witchhazel flowers vary from red to yellow with an array in between. This plant is versatile in exposure and can be located in sites with full sun to part shade. One cultivar in particular, ‘Arnold Promise’, has an unbelievably strong citrus fragrance. The fluorescent yellow flowers of ‘Arnold Promise’ smell just like orange zest, bringing to mind umbrella shaded tropical drinks with a slice of orange to brighten the winter months.
Chimonanthus praecox is another deciduous shrub that is prized for its fragrant yellow flowers in January and February. Incredibly sweetly scented flowers adorn leafless branches that can be cut and brought inside a home for all to enjoy. Wintersweet can attain heights of ten to twelve feet and eight feet wide. Due to its size and somewhat unruly characteristic, wintersweet is best placed at the back of the shrub border in either full sun or part shade. Wintersweet can be rejuvenated easily in late February by pruning the entire plant within six inches of the ground. This practice will prevent Chimonanthus from becoming too large and overbearing in the landscape. Like daphne, well drained sites are recommended for wintersweet.
Like the ‘Arnold Promise’ witchhazel previously mentioned, winter honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima) provides an abundance of flowers which permeate the air with a citrus scent. Winter honeysuckle provides more of a lemon scent as opposed to the orange scent of the witchhazel. These flowers are white with somewhat of a pink influence. Many gardeners immediately think of a vine when honeysuckle is mentioned but this particular species forms a shrub of approximately eight feet tall and wide. This plant can be rejuvenated with relative ease after the flowers have bloomed in the middle to late winter, which can keep winter honeysuckle at a more manageable size. A mass of three or more winter honeysuckles can not go unnoticed in the landscape as the fragrance can be detected as much as one hundred feet away.
Edgeworthia papyrifera deserves to be mentioned when speaking of fragrant winter plants. Paperbush is a deciduous shrub with three to six inch long bluish green leaves and achieves a height of four to five feet with equal spread. The foliage itself adds an interesting textural affect to the landscape by incorporating a tropical flare. Once the leaves have fallen in November, triangular leaf scars stand out along the richly colored cinnamon stems adding to the winter interest. The flower heads are composed of fifteen to twenty five individual yellow flowers that are approximately one half of an inch long. The flowers of paperbush are not as fragrant as the above mentioned plants, but a sweet aroma is definitely present. Paperbush performs well in part sun to part shade environments and prefers rich, organic soils.
Winter does not have to be a time of dread in regards to the landscape. The addition of fragrant plants can help add interest to drab winter landscapes by spicing up outdoor areas. While other shrubs that provide interest during warmer times of year are waiting out the cold, these plants help bridge the gap from fall to spring. The fragrance of “fruit loops and orange peels” may help to freshen up an otherwise uneventful winter day.