I’ve caught a bit of a cold after two days walking a trade show with ten thousand other plant people, so my already diminished sense of smell is reduced even further. Still, on this calm morning, with the air heavy from last night’s downpour, the fragrance from the vernal witch hazel (Hamamelis vernalis) is enough in the lower part of the rear garden that even I can recognize it.
Hybrid witch hazels (Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Jelena’, below) closeby are breaking bud, so soon there will be more flowers and fragrance. Flowers of the vernal witch hazel are smaller and more muted in color and scent than blooms of the hybrids, but I cannot argue with any flower or fragrance in mid winter. In mild weather or in the cold, I’m outdoors as buds crack to show the first glimpse of color, and to watch as flowers curl shut on frigid nights. Interestingly (at least to me), I’ve hesitated to call vernal witch hazel a native since references state it is found to the west of the Blue Ridge Mountains. However, this week I saw many ready to flower in mountains an hour west of my home. That’s close enough for me, and all the more reason to plant this shrubby winter bloomer (of course, alongside a variety of the hybrids).
The winter flowering mahonias (Mahonia x media ‘Charity’, below) are just past their peak, and while I read that they are sweetly fragrant, I smell nothing. I am somewhat surprised by the lack of bees in this spell of warm temperatures (mid 60’s Fahrenheit), so again it is unlikely there will be berries. The leatherleaf mahonias (Mahonia bealei) show signs of flowering early, and almost certainly bees will be out and about by the time they’re blooming.
It’s not unusual for flower buds of several daphnes (Daphne x transatlantica ‘Summer Ice’, below) to swell during mild periods in mid winter, but then a cold spell comes and buds stand still until March, perhaps with a few scattered flowers late in February in the very odd warm late winter. Buds of the winter daphne (Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’) progress slowly through the winter, and these rarely flower earlier than March.
I notice swelling buds in the low, wide spreading clump of sweetbox (Sarcococca hookeriana var. humilis, below), but again it seems unlikely there will be flowers prior to March. For whatever reason, even at peak bloom I rarely notice its scent, but it’s a sturdy evergreen once it becomes established, and the fragrance is a bonus for gardeners who aren’t scent impaired.