February is often quite a gloomy time and year, and the garden can look quite uninviting. However, if you are brave enough to venture out you will find that quite a few flowering shrubs produce delicate flowers which can cope with the winter conditions; some having the added advantage of being sweetly scented. Plants flowering from now on may also provide early nectar for early emerging bees and other insects in the garden.
Here is a small selection of shrubs that we grow here to brighten our winter borders, and if, like me, you tend to hibernate overwinter, you can always bring a sprig of your favourite shrub inside to perfume your living room.
Daphnes are beautifully scented garden plants but can be rather tricky to grow as they may perish in a windy cold position. They like light shade, neutral to acid soil and well drained moist soils. I have a lovely evergreen variety called ‘Jacqueline Postill’ which is about 4 years old, three feet high and quite narrow. I have placed it behind an Eleagnus to protect it from the sharp winds, and it now has delicate pinky white flowers which have a lovely scent. A smaller shrub, Daphne mezereum is also in flower bearing reddish purple flowers on bare stems. It reaches about one metre (3ft) and is useful in a smaller space. I had one of these plants in my first proper garden over 30 years ago and loved it then, and now have got another! All of the Daphnes can be quite excpensive to buy because they are quite slow growing, but they are becoming more available at garden centres and nurseries.
Sometimes called sweet box, this evergreen shrub reaches about 1.2 m in height and will spread by suckering. The most commonly grown variety is called Sarcococca hookeriana var. digyna, a bit of a mouthful to say, but a useful plant for growing in shade and poorer conditions. It is often relegated to tricky sites under trees as it is so adaptable, but it has evergreen, shiny foliage which looks attractive in any part of the garden. Inconspicuous white flowers appear in late winter,which excude a sweet scent – I say this as this is widely said, but in truth I can’t smell anything on any of my plants unless I bring a sprig into the house. I wonder if this is a result of micropropagation?
I love Viburnums because generally they are easy to grow, have a variety of shapes and flowering periods, with both deciduous and evergreen varieties. Viburnum tinus is a very useful evergreen shrub, with oval leaves and white or pinky flower clusters. It will grow to 8 – 10ft so may need containing, but this is easy to do, particularly if you are a flower arranger and you can snip off stems quite regularly. I have both the ordinary shrub and the variety ‘Eve Price’, I like both but prefer the latter with it’s stronger coloured pink buds.
Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’. This deciduous Viburnum is a favourite garden plant because of the delicate pinky white scented flowers it produces in the winter. It has an upright habit up to about 8 – 10 ft but is easily kept in shape.
Another good winter Viburnum is V. farreri which blooms throughout winter – this is on my ‘ to get’ wish as it has an almond scent.
Other garden plants blooming in February include Abeliophyllum distichum, Ericas, Hamamelis, with catkins on the Hazels and of course the snowdrops are blooming.