Start making scents; SWEET SMELLS CAN CARRY YOU THROUGH UNTIL SPRING BLOOMS.
BIt might not seem like it, but there is still plenty of life outdoors. So take a deep breath and take in the wonder of fragrant SHRUBS ...
THERE are scented shrubs aplenty to lift your spirits on dark winter days.
Their perfume carries in the air and is a timely reminder that, far from being a dead place, the winter garden is alive and revving up for spring.
There's viburnum bodnantense and viburnum farreri, mahonias and winterflowering honeysuckles. And our witchhazel is at the peak of its performance. Scents are almost always evocative - there was no witch-hazel in my grandad's garden but there was Daphne mezereum. In February, its leafless branches were crowded with pink-purple flowers with a glorious scent (it used to be known as paradise plant). It was unexpectedly potent from such a tiny bush.
Alongside it were auriculas, which surrounded the path to the outside toilet, and had the same perfume as the daphne. Auriculas are nowhere near out yet, though we get a sprinkling of flowers on our Old Mustard throughout the winter. I can never resist a quick sniff.
PERFECT PERFUME Another British native daphne is Daphne laureola - the spurge laurel with green flowers.
The exotic Daphne bholua Jacqueline Postill is from the Himalayas. Its delicious fragrance is best enjoyed in enclosed spaces and it prefers a sheltered site. The flowers are not showy but they are pretty, borne in bunches composed of up to a dozen pink, four-petalled stars.
There are other, more lowly scented, flowers whose proper season is now.
Iris unguicularis, the Algerian Iris, has large violet flowers with a beautiful sweet scent, especially rich when cut and brought into a warm room. Offer it a home where it gets some protection. It will willingly make a hefty clump of rather untidy leaves and the poorer your soil the more flowers it will produce.
Viola odorata is a native of the British Isles although it is more common in the South. Often wild populations are garden escapees - the sweet violet was often cultivated in cottage gardens.
TURNING VIOLET The Parma violet has even more intense perfume and its scent is just like the Cachoux that were once a popular sweet and are now considered rather posh.
Although viola odorata is hardy, it benefits from a warm, sheltered spot. Parma violets, though, need glass protection during the winter, especially for their flowers to remain unsullied.
Being hedgerow dwellers, violets love leafy, humus-rich soil and some shade during the summer.
The very earliest of narcissi are beginning to show colour now and they, too, have good scent. N. February Gold is one of the first to flower and a dainty miniature, N. Midget is early, too, and a perfect choice for a raised bed or rock garden. N. Sweetness speaks for itself - a straightforward daffodil with an excellent perfume.
If you haven't got these yet, it's too late to plant them now but put a note in your diary to order in September so they'll grace your garden next year. You can buy bulbs potted and in flower but it's expensive compared to buying them as dry bulbs.
SHRUBS UP When it comes to shrubs, though, they can be bought in containers at any time. If the weather is really cold, and especially if the ground is frozen, it's only sensible to wait for a milder spell, keeping them under the protection of a glass porch or the kitchen windowsill.
Azara microphylla also has yellowscented flowers, although they are very different from daffodils.
It is a Chilean tree, which, although often grown as a wall shrub here, can reach 20ft. It's often grown against a wall because it can be a bit tender, although it is the hardiest of its genus. Its fluffy flowers are produced on the underside of the twigs, not obvious at first but its delicious vanilla perfume fills the cold winter air.
Psychologically, being able to enjoy perfume from flowers now lifts the spirits and puts us in the mind frame where gardening becomes a pleasure.
B Taking in the heady aroma of witch-hazel is a treat in winter
Pictures: JONATHAN BUCKLEY
Narcissus February Gold