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Byline: WITH gardening Diarmuid Gavin

The sharp cold of winter has now arrived and Jack Frost is leaving sprinkles of ice on the lawn and the car windscreen. Winter is entering its freezing stage and along with the cold comes a new sense of clarity in the garden.

On a bright day, the air seems clean and piercing and whereas during spring and early summer a cacophony of scents can ooze from colourful borders, in winter the beauty of individual smells linger like delicate presents from gardens that never stop giving.

There's a theory that because there are fewer insects in the winter, plants have to exude an extra strong whiff to attract those pollinators who are around.

Winter scent is a wondrous thing. It's a surprise whose ambush never fails to delight. We're used to colour, flower, foliage and even bark through all seasons but it is magical scent that seems to delight us so much. This can be very simple - hyacinths in pots, whose perfume matches the colourful bulb, being strong and heady, or the more subtle Chimonanthus praecox, a wall shrub that I have talked about in these pages before and which will forever remind me of my college days. Scent is so often about memories. They seem to capture the essence of a moment.

It's a good time to consider the plants that may add fragrance to your garden from this month on. What ambrosial aromas can you add? If there's space for a small tree, Azara microphylla emits a gorgeous vanilla scent from tiny greenish yellow flowers in late winter and early spring. It's a compact evergreen shrub or tree with small dark green leaves that will tolerate some shade.

More space is required for the mimosa tree, Acacia dealbata. It has beautiful silvery, fern-like foliage that florists like for their arrangements and is covered in yellow pompom flowers in January with the most delicious fragrance. However, it can be a bit tender, especially when young, although it seems to get hardier with age. It may only be suitable for the south and west of the country or in a conservatory.

There are plenty of shrubs to choose from. While we are all familiar with climbing honeysuckles, it also comes in shrub form. Lonicera standishii is covered in small white tubular flowers with a lovely winter fragrance.

Fragrant stars Daphne is probably the queen of perfumes in winter, Jacqueline Postill being a star performer. It needs to be planted near a path where you can get up close and drink in the intensely fragrant flowers, which are purple pink outside and white within. And, of course, the great plant hunter Reginald Farrer's most glorious of shrubs, Viburnum farreri, which never disappoints, has white tinged-with-pink flowers that have an exquisite bouquet.

Chinese witch hazels have most unusual spidery flowers in acidic yellows, coppery oranges and reds. Borne on bare branches in winter, they are not only unusual but also have a spicy smell.

How about an aromatic hedge? Osmanthus would be a good choice - it has glossy holly-like leaves and small fragrant white flowers in autumn.

Or for that most difficult of gardening areas - dry shade - consider planting Sarcococca hookeriana or sweet box. This is a small evergreen shrub whose white flowers in winter exude a surprisingly intoxicating smell, despite their dainty appearance.

In an exposed or coastal area, elaeagnus ebbingei is a large evergreen shrub whose cream-coloured flowers in autumn are also very fragrant. If you are gardening on a smaller scale, with pots on a balcony or a window box, I would suggest planting the beautiful winter flowering violet iris unguicularis and some scented winter pansies.

So, you see, for well below the price of a scented candle that will in time fade, you can enjoy the everlasting scent of nature's perfumery.

ask Diarmuid HI DIARMUID, I was speaking to a friend recently about planting shallots and he said they should be planted on the shortest day, which is obviously in December.

I live in the north Hampshire area and would have thought it would be a bit on the cold side at this time of year. What are your thoughts on this? MALCOLM, HAMPSHIRE HI MALCOLM, It can depend on the variety. There are autumn-planting shallots and spring-planting shallots, so you would need to check with your supplier to see which variety you have.

If they are autumn ones, they will be happy in the cold ground for winter and you will get an earlier crop than planting in the spring. Choose a sunny site and plant in well-drained, fertile soil.

Improve your soil by adding well-rotted manure or compost and place in the soil with their tip just showing, with each bulb about 10 inches apart. They are easy to grow and you don't have to wait until mid-December - you can do it right now.


nature's perfumery. costs less than a scented candle


Winter iris

Acacia dealbata


elaeagnus ebbingei

Daphne bholua Jacqueline Postill

Sarcococca hookeriana

Winter pansy

Chinese witch hazel
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Nov 24, 2012
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