February can be full of bright, crisp frosty days with occasional snowy periods or it can be wet and dreary, but one thing gardeners can generally bank on is that it will be cold! Many gardeners take the opportunity this month to snuggle indoors with seed and summer bulb catalogues and dream of sunny days and colourful flowers.
For those of us who like to brave the outdoors, now’s the time to prune woody things such as apple and pear trees, buddleia and wisteria, sort out your greenhouse, cut back deciduous grasses and plant any bare-root shrubs you’ve purchased. If the ground is wet, avoid damage to the structure of the soil by not walking on it where possible.
One thing that really lifts the spirits at this quiet time in the garden is scent of perfumed shrubs. Some of the best scents are to be found at this time of the year, perhaps nature decided to treat our olfactory senses as compensation for the lack of things to please the eye. One of the best plants for fragrance bar none is the Mahonia.
The yellow flowers are a welcome splash of early year colour and they have a wonderful honey perfume. Bees love them too, which is always a bonus. This shrub is as tough as old boots and will cope with a variety of aspects, but plant it where it will catch a bit of sun so the heat can release the perfume of the flowers. It’s good to situate it in a position where you frequently pass by at this time of year so you can get maximum benefit from its scent, but don’t plant it where you will need to brush past it as the leaves are spiky.
Another fantastic shrub is Chimonanthus praecox. This shrub will spend eleven months of the year without anybody giving it so much as a second glance. It’s utterly non-descript all summer when it’s clothed in leaves and once it’s dropped these in Autumn, it will spend another two or three months looking like a twiggy mess until it suddenly bursts open with tiny, creamy coloured flowers at the beginning of the year. The scent from these flowers is gorgeous, cut a couple of branches and put them in a vase and you can enjoy them indoors. I promise you will forgive its lack of beauty once you’ve smelt these flowers.
Another perfumed gem for early scent is Daphne bholua, which can be expensive to buy and may not live a particularly long time, but it is worth a place in the garden despite these faults. Sarcococca confusa is a smallish, evergreen plant also known as ‘Christmas or sweet box’. This is another plant that you won’t notice until it flowers and gives off its incredible fragrance, so pop one by your front door and forget about it until it rewards you with sweet scent at a time when it’s most welcome.
Written by Sarah Wilson.
In-house Designer & Garden
Maintenance Manager at Simply Garden