Spice Up Your Garden

If winter in your garden is drab and boring, it may be an indication that you need more plants. These winter flowering shrubs not only add color, but fragrance too! The perfume of fragrant winter flowering shrubs is a welcome sign of spring around the corner; and for early arriving nectar feeders, some of these shrubs can provide a lifeline until the more tender plants wake up.
Daphne odora, also known as fragrant or winter daphne, is a small evergreen shrub reaching three to five feet tall, and a bit wider. Daphne requires well drained soil, and performs well in containers. It is available in green or variegated leaf varieties, both of which may be found in either white or pink blooming forms. It is hardy in zones 7-9. Daphne is well suited for containers.
Mahonia includes numerous species that provide evergreen foliage and fragrant winter blooms that attract hummingbirds in areas where they are present early in the year. These "cane" plants produce their flowers in the center of the growing tip of the stem. For the best show and a dense plant, prune back the oldest two or three canes on mature plants annually after flowering. Mahonias are used most effectively in natural or informal areas.
Mahonia aquifolium, or Oregon grape holly, is native to the Pacific Northwest and is the state flower of Oregon. It can reach fifteen feet high, so consider one of the widely available compact forms for limited space. Oregon grape holly is hardy in zones 5-9.
Mahonia bealei, or leatherleaf mahonia, has coarse leaves and can attain seven feet or more. Hardy in zones 5-8, this native of China has naturalized in the American southeast, and is considered invasive in some areas.
There are several hybrid cultivars, known as Mahonia x media, which are bred for their profusion of blooms, compact size, colorful winter foliage and more. They are variously hardy between zones 5-9, some being better adapted toward the north others the south. These cultivars are some of the most useful selections for manicured landscapes.
Mahonia repens, or creeping mahonia, may be the lowest-growing form at 18-24 inches tall and four to five feet wide. Creeping mahonia is hardy in zones 5-9. Another northwestern native, creeping mahonia is a nice deep groundcover for shaded natural areas.
Sarcococca hookeriana, also known as Himalayan sweet box, is a low, spreading, broadleaved evergreen shrub. Its tiny, thread-like, white flowers line the stems beneath the leaves and allow their softly sweet aroma to take center stage in late winter. Himalayan sweet box makes a nice border along walkways, and can be neatly pruned to a low hedge where its winter fragrance may be appreciated and its deep green glossy foliage is especially useful throughout the year.
Fothergilla, sometimes known as witch alder, includes two species of deciduous shrub with lightly fragrant, white bottle-brush blooms borne in late winter or early spring. Included here for their fragrant blooms, fall foliage color of golden, orange and red is another wonderful reason to have them in your semi shaded shrub border or even used as a hedge. The two species, Fothergilla gardenii and Fothergilla major, are distinct in in size (F. gardenii being about half the size of F. major) and native range (the first from the coastal southeast, the second from the southern Appalachians), but similar in use. Fothergilla reaches three to five feet high and a bit wider, hardy in zones 5-8.
Witch Hazel
Hamamelis species and cultivars, the witch hazels, are a group of large deciduous shrubs native to North America and East Asia. Not all witch hazels are the same. Common witch hazel, from eastern North America, blooms in fall, but vernal, Chinese, and Japanese witch hazels are winter bloomers. Their flowers peak anywhere between January and March depending on location and weather conditions.
Witch hazels come in an array of colors: shades of red, orange and yellow. These hardy, sweet-scented blooms often appear when temperatures are below freezing, and may persist for a month if conditions do not become too harsh. Some variation exists among selections, but generally witch hazels are hardy in zones 5-8. Reaching heights of fifteen feet and more, they are useful as specimen plants in sunny or lightly shaded areas.
Edgeworthia chrysantha, called paperbush, is a deciduous member of the daphne family. It lives up to its heritage with abundant, pendulous, intensely sweet, creamy yellow blossoms borne in late winter prior to leafing out. A mild climate plant, it is hardy in zones 7-9. Paperbush requires moist, well drained soil and indirect sunlight. It attains six to ten feet at maturity, and is useful in mass plantings, the blue-green foliage providing a beautiful backdrop for the colors and textures of small shrubs and perennials in the shade garden.
Consider adding fragrant winter blooming shrubs to your landscape. You may still have harsh conditions to endure, but these harbingers of spring provide the distraction to make the wait more bearable.