This Christmas, Santa delivered Dave Goulson’s excellent book ‘The Garden Jungle’, which is all about the wildlife that lives right under our noses, in our gardens, and we hear that he will talk to our local gardening club, Grayshott Gardeners, on the subject later this year. Inspired by his book, we chatted about the winter garden jewels that flower in our gardens during these sparse months providing scent for us and nourishing nectar for insects.
The Camellia sasanqua and Christmas roses (Helleborus niger) have been blooming consistently since November. Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill’ bears an abundance of highly fragrant purplish-pink and white flowers and, if positioned close to a house door it will fill the air with perfume. The smaller Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’ in a pot will have the same effect, as does the more demure but equally fragrant, purple stemmed winter Box (Sarcococca hookeriana).
We love witch hazels (Hamamelis).The Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Pallida’ has sulphur yellow dangling tassels on bare stems and exudes a cheery optimism with a spicy scent. This plant’s upright habit can be tamed by snipping the wayward branches and using them in your indoor arrangements. An added bonus is the transformation of its leaves in autumn to bear the colours of the season.
If space allows, why not consider the fragrant soft pale-yellow blooms of the Wintersweet (Chimonanthus praecox) or the Edgeworthia chrysantha ‘Grandiflora’ both of which can be seen at the RHS garden at Wisley. These plants require a sunny sheltered spot, the latter bearing clove scented round heads of bright yellow flowers on a structural globe of pale stems.
Mahonias offer strong architectural form for a planting scheme. In a range of shapes and sizes they bloom throughout the winter season and their large fragrant blooms are invaluable to winter colonies of bumblebees. Mahonia x media ‘Charity’ is a tall prolific bloomer and perhaps the most well-known, often placed to light up a dark corner. On a smaller scale the leaves of the low growing Mahonia aquifolium provides a kaleidoscope of colours throughout the dark season.
Along with these we are nurturing carpets of hellebores, snowdrops, crocus, cyclamen and winter aconites and we all agree that when the weather permits getting out into our gardens to watch the wildlife enjoy the pollen and nectar offered by these winter jewels is a great way to start the new gardening year.