On a bleak winter’s day in the garden, it can be a pleasant surprise to turn a corner and experience a sweet scent wafting in the cold air. An inconspicuous shrub called Sarcococca confusa or Sweet box could be the provenance of the unusual fragrance hanging in the air.
This evergreen shrub with glossy green ovate shaped leaves is a native of China and for most of the year passes generally unnoticed. In the middle of winter, however, it produces its creamy-white highly scented flowers to delight the passer-by and attract early flying insects seeking pollen and nectar. These are followed by small, rounded black berries which are eaten by birds. It grows to about two metres tall and thrives in full or partial shade (1).
Another shrub that surprises with its powerful sweet-scented mauve-pink flowers now is Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill’ or the Nepalese paper plant. This plant attracts early flying bees. It is a medium sized shrub which likes a sunny position in a sheltered spot. It is very toxic, and the sap can cause irritation to the skin. Alan Postill, a plant breeder at the long-established Hillier Nurseries in England named the plant after his wife, Jacqueline (2).
A third shrub that emits sweet scent now is Viburnum Bodnantense ‘Dawn’. This shrub was bred at the famous Bodnant Garden in Wales. It produces pink flowers from November to March on bare stems. It will thrive in full sun or partial shade. It can grow to a height of 2.5 metres and is fully hardy (3).
Other shrubs with good fragrance in the winter garden include Wintersweet (Chimonanthus praecox), Chinese Witch hazel (Hamamalis mollis), Mahonia ‘Charity’ and the Winter Honeysuckle (Lonicera x purpusii ‘Winter Beauty’).