Monday, January 9, 2012

A winter scent

We're having a very mild early winter here in Plymouth.  OK its been cool and wet but we've had no significant frost so far.  Which means everything is ahead of schedule.  For the last two days it's been mild and still, perfect for my few scented winter flowerers to perfume the air.  Clematis cirrhosa 'Freckles' has a very mild scent that needs a good close up sniff for any impact.  Mahonia japonica has been flowering for a while now but is still giving off gentle wafts of sweet scent when I brush past it.  Even the winter flowering Iris, Iris unguicularis is producing the odd sweetly scented flower even though I'm sure it would prefer somewhere drier than my rather damp garden.  But the strongest of them all is the unassuming little winter box, Sarcococca confusa.

It's early this year.  Normally it flowers in February.  But, for the last two days I've been hit by a fabulous vanilla scent as I enter or leave the house by the front entrance.  The plant can be yards away from the point where the fragrance first hits but there is no mistaking the impact.  It will continue for three to four weeks, at its best on still days but still obvious even on our frequent windy ones.  Then it will go to sleep again for the rest of the year.

It's not a pretty plant.  Just a small, very hardy shrub with non-descript oval, evergreen leaves and a rather untidy habit that needs a good trim after flowering.  The flowers are small - whispy, white affairs.  It produces berries in abundance - small black ones that even the birds ignore - but these don't stand out as a decorative feature in their own right.  So, for eleven months of the year it's a bit of a waste of space.  But, oh, the scent as the year is turning more than justifies the space it occupies in my shady front garden.

Sarcococca confusa winter flowers
Sarcococca humilis and S.hookeriana are both very similar.  Frankly, it doesn't matter which one you choose, the results will be the same.  You only need one plant - and that can be hidden away in any shaded spot that's available.  Provided it's within scenting distance - and that can yards away.


  1. Hi John, I too am loving the mild start to this winter. I don't grow it, but Sarcococca must be one of the best smelling plants out there. It just smells fantastic!

    And as for brushing against Mahonia japonica, well, rather you than me. Ouch!

  2. The sarcococca has been whiffling in my garden too.........where did you get that puppy from? I have one smaller (different breed) and possibly newer downstairs right now! For the Dog Blogger read Catharine Howard

    1. Which puppy? I've got two dogs at the moment. A small, long haired Jack Russell of my daughters that I'm looking after and Pippa my 10 year old greyhound. The Jack Russell acts as my Blotanical avatar but the photo was taken a few years ago. She came from a breeder in North Cornwall.

  3. Thanks for the comments. It's refreshing to walk out the front door of a morning to be greeted with a waft of midwinter scent. The only plants that really match it at this time of year are the daphnes - but I've killed too many of those. Sarcococca is far hardier and less inclined to keel over at the first available opportunity.