Perfume in the Winter Garden

Louise better known as Wellywoman wrote the other day about the perfumed plants in her winter garden and invited us to join with her and Sue at Backlane Notebook in recording each month what scented plants we enjoy in our gardens.

When I designed our first garden my husband said I could plant whatever I liked as long as it was scented; and although not every plant in my garden does have fragrance it is one of the major considerations when I am choosing new plants.

Interestingly almost every plant that flowers in winter has highly scented blooms and often the flowers themselves are quite small and inconspicuous.  There is a local reason for this.  In winter there are far fewer bees flying so colour isn’t going to attract them from a long distance away, whereas a strong perfume will draw them from vast areas.

Let me share with you some images of what perfumed plants are flowering at this moment, sadly I can’t share the perfume too but I do urge you to visit a garden with borders designed for winter interest so that you too can be intoxicated by their delicious fragrance.



Eleagnus has been flowering since the beginning of November and has a wonderful scent that lingers in the air and often mystifies people as the flowers are very small and insignificant.

Osmanthus fragrans

Osmanthus fragrans

Another evergreen with small white perfumed flowers, this one is supposed to be drought tolerant so I am hoping it will do well.

Newly purchased Sarcococca

Newly purchased Sarcococca

Unfortunately I’m not sure which this newly purchased Sarcococca is, it is planted under the Arbutus as it likes shade.



I’ve had this poor little Mahonia for a while; I think it is smaller now than when I first bought it as there was a lot of die back after the hot summer a couple of years ago.  I moved it to the back border where there is shade in summer and the bed has some irrigation; if it grows it will make a nice backdrop to the spring walk.

Mahonia flowers almost open

Mahonia flowers almost open

Lime blossom

Lime blossom

In the greenhouse the perfume from the citrus plants is incredibly intoxicating when I open the door each morning.  At present the plant with most flowers is the lime.  Sadly I can see from my photograph that there is a woolly aphid on one leaf and some flies that might be other aphis on the flower, I must go out and deal with them before they cause a problem.

Lime blossom

Lime blossom

Lonicera fragrantissima, my favourite perfume of all

Lonicera fragrantissima, my favourite perfume of all

My favourite of all the scented winter shrubs is Lonicera fragrantissima; it isn’t a pretty shrub during summer although in a different climate you could grow a clematis over it; but it has the most wonderful perfume and it flowers for months in winter and into spring, the flowers are followed by pretty red, heart-shaped berries, and although ideally it would like a little more moisture it copes well with the summer drought.

Sweetly scented Rosa China Pink

Sweetly scented Rosa China Pink

Last, not a winter flowering plant at all but this rose has had flowers almost all the time for the past year.  It has a wonderful sweet perfume and the foliage is very healthy.

Sweetly scented Rosa China Pink

Sweetly scented Rosa China Pink

Do visit Louise or Sue for links to other gardener’s posts about the perfumed plants in their gardens.  Why not join in too; it doesn’t have to be winter plants so if you’re in the Southern Hemisphere.

39 thoughts on “Perfume in the Winter Garden

  1. Hope you have good success with your Sarcococca. I have a small passalong that has yet to bloom so still I am not sure of its fragrance. I’ve been making plans to visit some public gardens in the area for ideas on winter interest–will make a point to note which are scented as well.

    • I love visiting gardens in winter; there are often such good ideas for plants that aren’t always obvious. I’m sure that almost anything that is flowering will be scented so enjoy your visits.

  2. You certainly have lots of scented plants,so important when planting a garden. We have a few round the house, but I suppose most are in the woodland and the scent seems to be trapped by the trees and hedges, it is always worth have a quick sniff each day! I spy a lime already forming behind a couple of flowers, enjoy!

    • I know that you have many scented plants Pauline, it is such an added pleasure isn’t it? There are several tiny limes forming. I need to remove the mature lemons from some plants to encourage flower production.

  3. I totally agree with your husband: scented plants are where it’s at. Love all citrus and even though Eleagnus sometimes gets bad press I adore the smell.

    • Why does it get a bad press where you are? For me it is a perfect plant, evergreen, doesn’t grow too quickly, can be pruned if needed and flowers in winter with wonderful scent, what’s not to like?

      • It is so easy to grow and drought tolerant it was widely planted after the dustbowl as a way of controlling wind erosion but it took off and became quite invasive. Birds LOVE the fruit (so do I) and planted them willy-nilly. Personally, I don’t see the problem. It provides cover habitat and food for wildlife and it is not nearly as thuggish as say ligustrum. Does it replace native shrubs? Maybe. But I kind of think the new normal is long term drought and increasing heat. I’d rather have an invasive plant than a barren wasteland.

  4. Nice choices, all. Citrus is so wonderful in the winter. I don’t grow any, but my parents have a number of citrus trees in their garden on the Gulf of Mexico coastal town that I was raised in. I no longer have the plant, but I also grew the fragrant honeysuckle, Lonicera fragrantissima and it’s also has a beautiful scent.

    • Your parents are lucky to be able to grow citrus outside, of course they grow in the ground in southern Italy and Sicily but here the winters are too cold so that even if it doesn’t freeze they don’t flower in winter which is when they should I think.

  5. I would like to smell some floral scents wafting in the air – thanks for letting me do it vicariously. This reminded me of the chapter on winter flowers in Down the Garden Path by Beverly Nichols. Love ‘China Pink’ and the Lonicera!

  6. The bees and bumble bees must enjoy these flowers too on the warmer days. I have a perfumed Skimmia but I have noticed some of the buds starting to go mouldy as their upright form catches the rain. I have never seen this before. Amelia

  7. Funnily enough, Mike said exactly the same. I am always envious of your limes. Would it be possible to grow them in an English greenhouse I wonder? I suppose it depends on the minimum temperature they can stand.

    • Limes can take cold but don’t like being out in the cold wind and wet. When we had a very cold winter a couple of years ago with temperatures down to minus 10 or 12°C all the citrus was in the unheated greenhouse and were fine. I wouldn’t say citrus is easy, it needs lots of feeding which I’m not very good about doing, but I get about 40 or so limes every year from 2 plants which aren’t very big. I would say it is worth trying.

  8. The Osmanthus looks great – and they are very tolerant of neglect. An ex-rental house I was working on had a rather nice informal hedge of them on a pathway from the laundry. The scent was just amazing, even on very cold days it would linger in the air.

  9. I thoroughly enjoyed the idea and the post 🙂 Will have to see about taking part in this one. You have me wondering whether I could possibly squeeze Osmanthus fragrans somewhere in the garden! I am waiting for the weather to warm enough to bring the lemons into bloom… Fragrance is such a marvelous part of gardening.

    • Fragrance and also sound. In summer I love the sound of all the bees and insects, although there are bees in winter there are far fewer so the sound isn’t so noticeable.

  10. I tried very hard to imagine the scents, but the photos alone are lovely and uplifting. 🙂 Even if we did have some scented winter flowers that survive the cold I would not be outside to enjoy them in this chilly and wet weather! My Mahonia had one or two flowers before Christmas, but the very cold spell at new year has stalled them and they won’t flower for a while yet. I am looking forward to their honey- like perfume already though! (As are the bees!) Your lime flowers are so pretty. Do you get many fruits from your citrus plants?

  11. The scent given off by Eleagnus completely mystified me the first time I came across it Christina. It took some time to track down the source. It’s hard to believe that such a relatively plain shrub with such small flowers could pack such an intoxicating punch.

  12. And with me too – it’s intriguing how people independently say they were completely mystified by the eleagnus fragrance. How lovely to have your rose flowering – none here now, although I did notice a couple of pink buds on Blush Noisette yesterday. And thanks for the idea of training a clematis up the lonicera – I shall definitely be onto that!

  13. I also put fragrance near the top when considering plants for my garden. Fragrance elevates a garden to another level. When I see images of your formal lavender garden, I immediately think of what it must be like to walk around and breathe in the perfume! Though I can’t grow lavender, we share some of the same fragrant plants, especially the winter bloomers. I also recently planted a Sarcococca, which is full of buds and should soon be blooming. I am looking forward to experiencing that fragrance, as I have never smelled it before.

  14. I can almost smell the citrus! Lucky you to have all these winter bloomers. I think I may try the mahonia in a sheltered spot, it would be worth it to have one more thing showing promise during the darkest days and it may possibly survive an easy winter.

  15. I’ve not had the best of luck planting for fragrance. The Witch Hazels are pretty, but the promised scent is sadly absent. The Daphne struggled for a year before conking out and I am perhaps the only person on earth who dislikes the scent of Sarcacocca (it does produce it, but I keep it for the black berries that follow). My one big success has been Casa Blanca lilies. Those perfume the air intoxicatingly in July. Scratch and sniff should be the next big breakthrough in technology, don’t you think?

    • Perfume is such a personal thing, even more than colour, and I know we all perceive that differently too. My husband adores the smell of the Cistus foliage especially in hot sun whereas I can’t detect it at all.

  16. I wish I had a better sense of smell! I never seem to be able to catch the scent from my viburnums or witch hazel, though am told they are lovely. I will persist though, because few things beat walking round a corner and catching a lovely scent, bewildering until tracked down to some otherwise unassuming plant. Working in your greenhouse with the scent from the lime blossom sounds rather wonderful. The eleagnus looks rather lovely.

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