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Thoughts from a Foreign Field

Scents and sensibility…

Lonicera fragrantissima
Daphne odora aureomarginata
Viburnum bodnantense
Lonicera fragrantissima
Daphne odora aureomarginata
Viburnum bodnantense

Vita Sackville-West was, as you probably all know, a famous British writer and grande dame who is responsible (with her husband, Harold Nicholson) for one of the most iconic and famous gardens in the world – the white garden at Sissinghurst. Today this garden gets about 200,00 visitors (which makes it a bit of a squash in the middle of summer – if you get the chance plan your visit for early morning or last thing in the evening). 

As well as being well known for the garden – and for having a number of interesting love affairs with various people including Virginia Woolf –  she wrote some cracking poems, novels, biographies and also a novels, poems and biographies, she also wrote a regular column of garden advice for the Observer newspaper. She began in 1946 and wrote her column every Sunday morning until 1961: a year before her death. These were later compiled into four books, beginning with “In Your Garden” which you can still easily find if you scoot around the internet a bit.

Which brings me, in a customarily roundabout way, to the point of this blog. Vita once wrote “Plant for your winter pleasure, when the months dishearten”. We have had quite a disheartening month or so as it has rained. A lot.

Winter gardening is part delight (washy sunlight and crunchy lawns) and part pain (numbed fingers and dreary afternoons). On the surface all seems still and sleepy until you come round a corner and walk into a wall of overwhelming scent; totally different to the blousy scents of summer, more intense in the cold air and in contrast to the surrounding bare branches. There are comparatively few plants than give you this pleasure but every garden should make room for at least one of them. 

Smart woman, that Vita.

Here are some of my favourite winter plants for scent.

Lonicera x purpusii  Winter Beauty- winter flowering honeysuckle (a shrub not a climber).To smell the creamy yellow flowers is like being dipped in warm vanilla.

Daphne odora aureomarginata – in the summer this shrub seems rather pointless with quite dull leaves but come the winter it produces purple buds and simple pink flowers whose scent would make a pirate weep.

Viburnum bodnantense

Viburnum x bodnantense – a big shrub with lots of pink flowers throughout the winter. The scent is much more essence of boudoir – less spicy and more flowery than most.

Sarcoccocca hookeriana – Christmas box. Difficult to spell (too many C’s) but a perfect evergreen shrub to plant close to a doorway so you can enjoy the peppery sweet white flowers every time you come inside.

Narcissus Paper White – Classic daffodil for forcing. They won’t survive outside but a bowlful can fill an entire house with a heavy fragrance of almost decadent sensuality. Bit late to do anything about growing them now as you need to plant in the Autumn. Make a note.

Rosmarinus officinalis – not a plant you immediately think of in winter but to rub your hands through its leaves is to have summer on your skin for hours.

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