Zone 7 has it pretty good, I think. We have enough cold to know we had winter (zone 4 gardeners, feel free to rant amongst yourselves), but it rarely lasts very long. Most of what we call winter is simply chilly and dreary. Temperatures are mostly tolerable for a garden stroll. These walks in winter, though, are boring to the eyes. A few buds here, a daffodil sprout there...there's just not that much to see in January in the "mild winter" zones. Plants won't spend energy on big, delicate petals only to have them shredded by wind and ice.
One highlight of a winter walk here could be sweet floral scent. Gardeners can choose from a variety of shrubs that offer strong fragrance from flowers blooming in winter. Those treasured milder winter days can find some of us caught by a drifting perfume, and awed by those brave bees that venture out to visit flowers in February.
The first single bud on my young Wintersweet last year hinted at the fragrance bouquet I'll enjoy for many winters to come.
Choose from these five shrubs for winter bloom with the ultimate sweet scent. Always consider several traits of the plant under consideration. Cold hardiness is a major deiciding factor, but remember the microclimate effect in your garden. Think in terms of form, whether a chosen spot can accommodate a large rangy shrub, or is better suited to a tidy, compact choice. Consider soil situations and your willingness to actively care for a plant given less than ideal conditions.
Wintersweet (Chimonanthes praecox) Zones 6-9
Wintersweet blooms on bare stems in midwinter. I can attest to the powerful fragrance pumped out by the pale yellow, bell-shaped blooms. If you have a place that can hold a large rangy bush, this is for you. In late fall, the leaves turn a subtle golden green and hang on until the bitter end. Then you can count the fat buds and watch them open in mid-winter. You won't miss them, the smell will draw you from across the yard.
Winter Daphne (Daphne odora) Zones 7-9
Winter Daphne bears what many call the very finest fragrance, on what many say is the most finicky garden specimen. Daphne must have perfectly drained soil, or it will suffer sudden and fatal root rot. It also prefers a more narrow range of conditions than many shrubs. Winter Daphne should bloom in January or February for zone 8 to 9 gardeners; for zone 7, the bloom may wait until March. Daphne's evergreen foliage highlights its clusters of deep pink buds and barely-pink flowers. Cultivar 'Aureo-marginata' has white leaf edges, and is said to be more cold hardy by Missouri Botanical Garden.
Paper Bush (Edgeworthia) Zones 7-9
Edgeworthia is gaining in popularity as a relative newbie to the American nursery trade. This deciduous large shrub blooms on bare wood in late winter. Edgeworthia glows when the clusters of fragrant flowers light up the tips of the branches. This shrub likes dappled shade and ample water. Foliage is long and narrow, turning yellow in fall.
Winter Honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima) Zones 4-8
The common names say it all about this choice: winter honeysuckle, fragrant honeysuckle or "sweet breath of spring." Winter honeysuckle blooms on bare stems in late winter to early spring. This shrub is easy to grow in a wide range of conditions. Like many shrubs, it blooms its best with full or nearly full sun. Tiny berries draw songbirds to the summer garden. Sadly, this shrub has few other attractive traits. Please be aware that this species s invasive in southern forests-see Invasives.org for more information.
Bodnant viburnum (Viburnum bodnantense) Zones 5-7
'Dawn' is the widely available, go-to cultivar of V. bodnantense. This deciduous shrub succeeds in gardens on the colder side of zone 7. Lovely pink flowers bloom on the bare stems, making 'Dawn' possibly the showiest of these candidates. This large shrub also brings nice form, attractive berries, and deep red fall foliage color to the landscape. Plant 'Dawn' in full to nearly full sun on average soil.
Well, I've done it again: added more shrubs to my wish list after researching them. Follow the higlighted links in the article to read more detailed descriptions of these specimens, along with "reviews" from Dave's Garden members.