Designing a garden using fragrant plants is a great way to extend the enjoyment of your landscape. There really are endless varieties to choose from, and I seem to always find a way to collect a few new ones each year even when it seems my landscape is bursting at the seams. It is my goal to always have at least five interesting plants to show visitors at any given moment, no matter what month.
The real advantage we have as gardeners in the southeast is the year-round growing season. We are so fortunate to live in a “mild” winter climate, which allows us to select plants that perform in the colder months of the year.
Understanding the Gardening Seasons
Though the calendar may say that the seasons officially change on a certain date each year, did you know there are two different seasonal dates to consider?
Most commonly is the meteorological start of the season, based on the position of the Earth in relation to the sun. Because of leap years, the traditional dates of equinoxes and solstices can change by a day or two.
However, the meteorological start of the season is based on the temperature cycle and is simplified to start on the first day of a month, so winter started on December 1 when using the meteorological start of the season. Spring will begin on March 1, and so on. Neither is 100 percent accurate for our southern seasons, though, so it is important to pay attention and keep records yourself.
What to Plant Where and How
It can be confusing to figure out what plants will grow best for you and where to place them in your home garden. Here are a few of my favorite winter-blooming plants that thrive in the southeastern U.S. hardiness zones 7-9.
Winter: December 21- March 18
Having grown up in Michigan, winter is my least favorite season. The irony in this is that some of my all-time favorite plants bloom in the winter. I can’t imagine my life without paper bushes and flowering apricots. Yes, the plants that show off through the cool season are truly remarkable and deserve a place in your garden so you can enjoy their beauty and fragrance too.
Chimonathus praecox – This is the plant that everyone smells, and no one sees. A deciduous shrub that can grow tall, like upwards of 15 feet, it is best grown in the back of a border. It is not a particularly showy plant, but when the blooms open, usually in December, the fragrance is so tantalizing that everyone inquires about it.
Daphne odora – Yes, they are short-lived and can be finicky, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth growing. To take full advantage of the winter perfume, I grow them in containers on my front porch, so I totally control how much moisture they are exposed to. Daphne needs well-drained soil and prefers to grow on the dry side, so growing them under the eave of a roof is an easy way to keep them alive longer.
Edgeworthia chrysantha – This relative of Daphne is a much easier, albeit larger plant, to include in your landscape. The brilliant yellow “balls of fragrant sunshine” blooms provide everything you need to get through a dreary winter day. They are excellent as cut branches for indoor arrangements and reign supreme for long-lasting floating flower arrangements.
Hamamelis – It is fair to say I adore all witch hazels. They are low maintenance small trees to large shrubs that offer great fall leaf color and bloom in mid-winter with a lemony fresh scent. I am especially a fan of the Asian hybrids commonly referred to as H. x intermedia (H. japonica x H. molis). Many extraordinary varieties of this fragrant hybrid include ‘Arnold Promise’, ‘Diane’ and the bi-color form ‘Jelena’.
Prunus mume – The Japanese flowering apricot is a winter bloomer that I wish were more common in the trade. With flower colors ranging from white and pink to dark red, this small tree will grow about the same size as dogwood or redbud. Each variety can bloom at a slightly different time through winter, so try to grow several cultivars to maximize the sweet fragrance and gorgeous blooms.
The Pollinator Element
Fragrance isn’t just for our enjoyment. One of the great benefits of growing scented plants is the increase in pollinator activity. Smelly flowers – both sweet and otherwise – attract insects who do their jobs by collecting nectar and spreading pollen which ultimately leads to seed set.
I hope I have inspired you to run out to your local nursery and invest in some fragrant-forward plants for winter. With these great options to choose from, you can enjoy a garden full of scent throughout the winter season.
Featured image – Carolina Allspice (Xcalycanthus chinensis) / Brie Arthur
Brie Arthur is an author, horticulturist and international speaker living in Fuquay-Varina, NC. She has been dubbed a revolutionary for her leadership in the suburban foodscape movement. For more information, visit BrieGrows.com or email Brie@BrieGrows.com.