Here we are February 1st, and my garden couldn’t be smelling any sweeter! I wanted to share with you two of my winter superstars as they’re some of my favorites for adding heavenly fragrance to this typically cold and bleak month. In my temperate Zone 9 garden, there’s still a few random leaves hanging on to their deciduous stems for dear life. But with each gentle breeze they’re quickly losing their grip, leaving behind one skeletal shrub after another. Thank heavens for my evergreen plants, as now is the time when they take their turn on the stage, no longer having to play meager supporting roles in my garden’s ever-changing performance. While these shrubs may be nothing new to many gardeners, sadly they’re often overlooked. However I can’t tell you how many times people walking by stop to ask me ‘what smells so good in your garden?’
One of my all-time favorite evergreen shrubs is the Sweet Box (Sarcococca ruscifolia). Hardy in zones 7-9, it has year-round shiny, small, dark green leaves that sit there and look happy every day of the year. In the shade, no less. In deep shade, no less. I tell people this plant will grow in a cave, it’s that much of a shade lover. And while most of the year it’s not much more than a lovely 3′x3′ mound of dark green, its winter scent is TO DIE FOR!
When designing gardens, I always try and plant a Sarcococca near a door or front pathway so its winter scent can be best appreciated by all who come and go throughout the day. My mailman loves my Sarcococca and looks forward to it every year (in fact, I’ll sometimes clip off a small branch for him to perfume his mail truck while he makes his rounds). The teeny-tiny flowers begin to make their appearance in late January, and come into their own right about now. While they’re not much to look at, BOY do they make up for it with their fragrance! I describe it as a combination of Jasmine and Honeysuckle, with a little bit of hope thrown in. It always catches people by surprise, too. In fact, just the other day I was sitting at my front table when I watched a solicitor walk up to my front door to drop off a flyer of some sort. As they turned to walk away, I saw them stop in their tracks and turn back again to walk over to my Sarcococca to see what was smelling so good! When the flowers start to fade, the plant will develop pearl-sized black or red berries – but don’t worry, they’re not super messy as birds will usually eat most of them before they drop. As if its winter scent weren’t enough of a reason to buy this plant, it’s also deer resistant and somewhat drought tolerant, too.
While the Sarcococca is busy perfuming one half of my garden, my Daphne is busy taking care of the other half. While I know lots of gardeners who have given up on temperamental Daphne (she hates to be fussed with – don’t even think of transplanting her fragile roots, or overwatering, or underwatering her) I encourage everyone to keep trying until they get it right. Once they find the perfect spot (just a hint of morning sun, with just a hint of water) they’ll be rewarded with the sweetest smelling, rosy pink flowers for weeks at a time. The dog walkers on my street always seem to linger at the front of my garden this time of year, and I know it’s because Daphne lures them over with her delicious scent. Another evergreen shrub, the ‘Marginata’ variety is my favorite as each green leaf is rimmed with a thin line of gold, allowing it to pop visually in the shade. And while Daphne can be a little pricey (due to her temperamental nature, no doubt) she’s well worth the price. In my opinion, any plant that encourages people to keep the faith – spring’s on its way! is worth its weight in gold.
Is there a February favorite in your garden? If so, please share – I’d love to know what it is!