The Scent of February

February 5, 2009

February – the last month of winter and the shortest one. I don’t necessarily like it but while we are in the middle of it, there is some joy to be had as a gardener. Scent is something that is heightened in winter, more positive in its attack and in getting your attention.

Snowdrops are the main theme this month. If you have managed to plant a colony on a bank or raised bed where they are a couple of feet nearer your nose, you would have discovered the honey scent already. I pick generous bunches for my office desk and the sight and smell almost (only almost!) makes me want February to stay a while longer.

The best scent for me at the moment, however, is being given up by the SARCOCOCCAS. One day nothing, the next, the whole vicinity is hung with the sweet and spicy scent. No warning, just stopped in my tracks and every year the same. There are several sorts of varying attributes but whichever you buy – plant it where you pass by. So many are planted where the owners never venture in winter and there they are, performing or perfuming with no audience. Go to them now (with some scissors – cut for the house they scent a room).

VIBURNUMS, especially V. X BODNANTENSE, is easier to notice, its flowers and buds giving a more visual warning that something good is on the way. A bush of this takes some beating with nose-pinching cold weather making the scent more apparent. Enjoy this scent on the air when it is sweet with a touch of spice. Close to, it has a slightly unpleasant back-note so don’t go sticking your nose right into it thinking you are going to get bigger and better thrills!

Another favourite of mine is CORONILLA GLAUCA. This is of the Pea family and it shows this in the flower. Yellow and with sweet perfume (slightly lemon in the CITRINA variety), it flowers all winter. I grow one on a sheltered wall and one in an open border and I doubt there is any difference in quantity of flowers but the wall does amplify the scent of the pampered specimen. This is good as it is near my front door. The other one has to be visited, usually with coffee in hand.

There are various varieties of the above shrubs but you will not go wrong whichever you use to get you through February.


The recognised method of pruning the coloured-stemmed Dogwoods is stooling, or the hard cutting back of the stems in spring. The desired reaction to this is to produce a flush of new shoots that will be the more highly-coloured the following winter.
     Yes, that is the general reaction, but, allowing for the vigour, age, soil and position of the plant, in my experience there is a variance in the growth between the different varieties. Constantly, the variety that seems to almost revel in being cut back is CORNUS ALBA AUREA, the yellow-leaved dogwood. This rushes up in new shoots in no time and produces larger than normal leaves to produce a huge foliage plant. The other end of the ‘stem reaction’ is the variegated Siberian, CORNUS ALBA SIBIRICA VARIEGATA. I have applied the secateurs to several plants (different gardens, different sources) of this and all react very sluggishly, some positively sulking. The variegation obviously slows it down but what of CORNUS ALBA ELEGANTISSIMA?   This I find reacts the way you hope it will! However, what I find with this is that the size of leaf is almost the same as that of an unpruned specimen. 
     I have not read of these differences in reactions anywhere, not even the excellent pruning manual The Pruning of Trees, Shrubs and Conifers by George E Brown (now revised by Tony Kirkham). Has anyone else experienced this variance?

Hello world!

January 30, 2009

Welcome to  my first blog.  At last I have joined blognation and hope you enjoy my thoughts and views. 

This first one is something that I have pondering for a while now and have met with blank expresssions when voiced.  Is this because I have been seeing things or others have not?