Brighten the darkness: Banish winter blues with sweet fragrances and delicate colours
- Nigel Colborn says we have the mildest winters in Northern Europe
- UK-based gardening expert recommends making the best of milder winters
- Among winter perennials, flowers are appearing sooner and in greater numbers
Here’s a remedy if you find November depressing: remind yourself that we have the mildest winters in Northern Europe. Warm currents have always caressed our western shores. But now, cold spells are less frequent and springs tend to be earlier.
So while the Netherlands and Germany freeze, we can gather flowers in February. We know climate change is man-made and must be reversed. But since winters are milder now, we must make the best it.
These days flowers are more abundant. Thirty years ago, February was the big month for snowdrops. Now, those and their natural team-mates, yellow aconites, peak a month earlier.
Even among winter perennials, flowers are appearing sooner and in greater numbers. North African Iris unguicularis used to produce bunches of pickable flowers from February into early spring. This year, my plants have already gone berserk, with new buds opening every day.
Cheerful: Daphne bholua Spring Beauty has star quality and loves sheltered spots
Bordering the North Sea, my part of Lincolnshire is notoriously bleak. So pink, autumnflowering nerines would usually be frosted by now. But this year they’re still dew-drop fresh in local front gardens. Why?
Because we’ve had no air frost since April.
Such late-flowering plants are precious. But another big feature among winter-flowering plants is fragrance.
Luckily, fragrant winter shrubs abound. So if your garden needs more midwinter charm, remedy that with one or two off-season shrubs.
This is the an excellent time to plant shrubs and trees. Choose winter-blooming varieties now and you could enjoy their first blossom this year.
Related to climbing honeysuckles, Lonicera fragrantissima is a winter-blooming shrub.
A good variety, L. x purpusii Winter Beauty, carries intensely fragrant, white to cream flowers. Both grow large but respond well to pruning.
Wintersweet, Chimonanthus praecox is a large shrub with intensely fragrant, parchmentcoloured flowers. Free standing, it grows to 4m, but is easy to train on a sunny wall.
For sheltered spots there are daphnes. They’re all good. But the prettiest and most fragrant, Daphne bholua, has real star quality. In small spaces try Sarcococca. They’re evergreen, fragrant and responsive to pruning, so perfect for low hedging or as free-standing shrubs.
There are winter-flowering cherries, plums, Japanese apricot and a dogwood. Each can make a cheerful winter show. But in small gardens any tree needs year-round interest.
In my previous garden a winter cherry, Prunus subhirtella Autumnalis Rosea, presided over a lawn and grew quite large. The first pink flowers opened as the last leaves fell and it flowered until new spring leaves emerged.
One of the finest winterflowering evergreens Arbutus unedo, or strawberry tree, has russet bark and clusters of small cream, lantern-shaped flowers. Red, rough-skinned fruits ripen in autumn.
For late winter, Japanese apricot, Prunus mume is a delightful tree with pink blossom in late winter. The best variety, Benichidori, has wonderfully dark pink flowers.