Not wintersweet as in Chimonanthus but an allusion to the fragrant shrubs that show themselves in the late fall to late winter period. Start with the Witch hazels (Hamamelis mollis or H. x intermedia hybrids). They sport delicate finger-like blooms in a variety of golds, oranges and reds in the December to February period. My H. mollis is in bloom now, though it has yet to drop all of its leaves. Another shrub that flowers before its new leaves appear is the intensely fragrant Edgeworthia chrysantha, also known as Paperbush as its peeling, parchment-like bark was used to write on. It and the subtly fragrant Pieris japonica both have a neat trick. They form unopened flower clusters in the late fall then in late winter/early spring the tiny hard flowers open to release their scent. In the case of Edgeworthia, the pale, creamy buds open to vibrant yellow flowers.
No need to wait for Sarcococcas to bloom. The plant known as Sweet or Christmas box can flower as early as December, releasing a heady perfume out of proportion to its tiny white flowers. Two Viburnum species offer a very pleasing fragrance in late winter. P. farreri (fragrans) has a subtle tangy fragrance, while the sometimes temperamental V. x burkwoodii seems to bloom when it feels like, including in early spring. It offers a pleasingly sweet, woodsy aroma. And don't forget Pittosporum tobira, known as Mock orange for its citrusy fragrance.
It isn't just shrubs that can spice up the winter period. The native Ribes sanguineum offers panicles of pink, red or white flowers in mid-winter, a heavenly treat for hummingbirds and humans alike. And here in the Bay Area the flowering cherries sprout flowers in mid-February, offering millions of subtle flowers with a delicate aroma. Not so delicate are the Angel's trumpets of Brugmansias. In milder zones, they can easily be blooming during the winter and varieties like the peachy Charles Grimaldi offer a heady perfume. And though we take them for granted, a multitude of citrus trees offer sweetly fragrant flowers during the winter period. It almost seems like cheating that we should be treated to such heavenly fragrances when they will soon also give us an abundance of fruit.
And of course I have to mention Daphnes, everybody's favorite fragrant shrub. As the saying goes, so many daphnes, so little space.
So, no need to sigh looking out the living room window. Get out and enjoy some of the winter fragrance that Mother Nature has to offer.
Here are a few pre-Thanksgiving photos from the garden. I didn't have the advantage of recent raindrops on the plants for this photo session but many came out very nicely nonetheless.
Echeveria runyonii 'Topsy Turvy.' My favorite new succulent. Look at that color. Regardez those wavy petals. Ahh, mon dieu, c'est fantastique!
Here's the aforementioned Edgeworthia chrysantha. It's held onto its leaves quite late in the year but you can already see the small white flower clusters. This plant can be susceptible to thrips but I've beaten that back and it's looking very healthy right now. It bodes well for some February fragrance!
Abelia 'Kaleidoscope.' This tough shrub hasn't grown as quickly as I'd hoped, nor bloomed as much, but I planted it more for its foliage so I'm happy with its present state. It's part of an east facing bed next to the house and sits in the middle of the Edgeworthia and the Daphne odora 'Marginata.'
I've grown to love this Pelargonium crispum 'Variegated Golden Lemon.' It's finally put on a mini-growth spurt and if you look closely you can see the scalloped leaves that explain its species name. It's another fragrant addition to the same walkway that has the Edgeworthia and Daphne.
Just a simple viola but I loved the colors, the royal red paired with the canary yellow and of course the whiskers.
Context is everything in photography and nowhere is that more evident than in photographing plants. This odd-looking, spoon-shaped item is the stipule of the curious Cunonia capensis. Known as the Butterknife tree for their stipules, this 'spoon' will open to sprout coppery new leaves.
Who says aloes are slow growing? This Aloe striata was planted as a tiny plant and a year later it's already a pretty good size. The so-called Coral aloe (for its flowers) offers a bluish cast to the rigid leaves and a pink edge to set the color off nicely.
Fans of Magnolia grandiflora will recognize this photo, being the golden-brown backside of its upper green leaf. It's an odd juxtaposition, the shiny, dark green on the top side and the fuzzy brown of the underside.
I find the bud form of certain flowers to be quite interesting. Here's one of my Camellia reticulata 'Frank Hauser' flowers, starting to unfurl. Reticulatas are the queens of the camellia court, being the largest, sometimes waviest and in general the showiest of all camellias. Frank Hauser is no exception; it sports large rosy-pink flowers that are extravagantly fluted.
Camellia japonica 'Black Magic.' There's a funny story behind this fantastic camellia. It was still relatively new to the market when I did a column on it. I happened to mention the grower so as to help retail nurseries know where to find it. Evidently there was a strong interest and the grower was flooded with requests. Normally that's a good thing -- sales! -- but of course they didn't anticipate such interest and didn't have near the stock needed to cover all the orders. The rep told my manager "Some %#*& said people could order this variety from us and now we're screwed." And my manager said "Umm, that %#*& works here." Pause. More pausing. Pretty funny!
Haworthias are such an interesting genus that, well, there isn't the space. Here's one of the translucent varieties. They are just so cool, almost looking like a 'jello' plant. In nature, the bottom of the plant is under the soil, leaving only the translucent part above ground.
Here's another Haworthia, this one a zebra type. Okay, come up with your own "What happened when the haworthia crossed the road" joke. This one has a rough texture, the white 'bands' being superimposed on the green background.
Laying down with the enemy! Here a cute little viola is being momentarily overrun by the weedy oxalis. For now, they look quite cute together. But you know very soon the viola is going to say "Hey, I need my own space!"
Another shot of my Salvia elegans 'Golden Delicious.' It really does stay golden and the scarlet flowers really pop against that backdrop. Plus, it has that subtle 'pineapple' fragrance.
Just a common yellow tuberous begonia but still, as we slide into winter, it's awfully pretty and lights up a shady area.
A new arrival, this unnamed Azalea from one of our houseplant growers offers up rosy-red flowers. We'll see if it can get established.