In the bleak midwinter our sense of smell is accentuated in the cold. The winter light is clear and bright and the sounds and smells of the winter garden are a delight. Linger longer in the winter garden and greenhouse and let your senses become ignited by the spicy scents of all manner of botanicals, known and unknown.
Scent is a sense we can take for granted, but look out for it in and around your garden and greenhouse this winter. Winter fragrance is powerful; it will stop you in your tracks, smack you in the face and lift your spirits as you search for its source.
In the winter garden there are a few stalwarts that are blooming their socks off. If you read the books some of them shouldn’t even be flowering now. The Mahonia in the garden is almost over but on a mild winter day its scent is serenaded with the sound of bees feeding on its copious nectar. The candy floss pink flowers of viburnum bodnatense ‘Dawn’ look like marshmallows on sticks and have a soft sweet scent that wafts across the path. It will flower for months now, really cold weather shriveling its flowers, which are quickly replaced by the next batch. The rosemary, still green and vibrant despite the cold has a clean fragrance that smells good enough to eat. It exudes its scent as you brush too close to its densely packed stems; the burst of perfume hits your nostrils and is intensified in the cold. A lone clove scented carnation, frosted with ice still wafts its scent into the winter air, hanging like a thread to the crisp, frozen foliage of the mother plant. Drooping, frosted creamy yellow flowers of winter honeysuckle hang from woody stems, wafting their scent to any passing pollinator that may be braving the frosty winter garden. The flowers are a rare nectar source in the deepest darkest winter hours and a saviour for foraging insects.
Gather a bundle of evergreen herbs for the house and to give as winter gifts to friends and neighbours. A bunch of bay, a ream of rosemary, a spray of sage and a few sprigs of thyme as well, wrapped with ribbon makes a useful, attractive impromptu posy and the perfect little festive gift to anyone that loves flavour but maybe lacks a garden. You’d be amazed at how well received this little bunch is on the run up to Christmas and if your plot is free from pesticides and chemicals, organic herbs are even more welcome. Plus the scent as you wrap them in tissue or secure your chosen ribbon is simply divine. Add them to stuffing, pop them in with the roasties or just keep in a small vase for some fragrant foliage.
In the greenhouse the damp, cold air is scented with a mix of heady perfumes. The blackcurrant smelling sage, growing in its protective climes, greets you as you open the door. But it’s the lemon-scented pelargonium that pervades the air. It’s citrusy spicy tones are reminiscent of a summer cocktail and make me want to linger longer within the glass encased walls that envelop this eclectic mix of plants, cuttings and seedlings. Even the tiny rocket seedlings seem spicier and stronger scented in the cool icy hours of daylight.
And inside, within the warmth of the festive home the scents of the season abound. A real Christmas tree, with scented needles adds a whole new dimension to the home. Clove punctured oranges emit a spicy, heady scent that is beyond compare, while the rich perfume of festive spices that saturate cakes and cookies, pies and puddings and so much more encapsulate the season in scents and smells in an evocative and memorable way. Each smell conjures festive gatherings past and the characters that brought them alive.
Frankincense and myrrh were resins and spices from the old world, revered for their fragrance and incomparable presence, each one manifests a sense of occasion and evokes emotion and memories beyond compare.
Revere the herbs and spices and scented plants in your garden, share their wonder with friends and family and bring them indoors as part of the festivities to emulate life everlasting and the rebirth of the sun as the light returns after the darkest months of winter.