The fragrance of winter

I had planned to climb Snowdonia today but, with blanket fog, zero visibility and arctic conditions forecast I decided to postpone my trek much to the relief of Llanberis mountain rescue.

I had wanted to climb for the view not the trek and was looking forward to being wowed by natures glory; as it turned out, I didn’t have to go far.

I haven’t been out in the garden much and, when I have it’s been dark, so I haven’t noticed the gradual unfurling, the slow unraveling of the witch hazel flowers.

Until now.

As I step across the lawn I stop in my tracks because what I see takes my breath away. The witch hazel, that grows next to the fence, unnoticed for most of the year, is clothed in glory. Explosions of tissue-paper flowers have erupted along each stem and it is gorgeous.

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It’s difficult to describe the colour; golden-yellow with a hint of lime maybe? Chartreuse yellow ? I try to capture the colour with my camera but it doesn’t do it justice so I stand and savour it with my own eyes instead.

I stand for ages taking it all in. Would I have stood on the summit of Snowdonia for so long? Not today.

Its impossible not to reach out and touch the tiny tendrils, they are so irresistibly tactile. Droplets of water run off them when disturbed and I am reminded that these are amongst the most highly scented of winter flowering plants. Nose twitching I lean closer, keen to get a whiff of their intoxicating aroma but, alas, today they are not releasing their fragrance. I will have to wait for a sunnier day.

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But all is not lost in the perfume department because the sarcococca flowers, commonly called sweet box,  are more than happy to gently permeate the air with their fragrance. The flowers of this evergreen shrub are often described by horticulturalists as insignificant. Insignificant! How rude! These tiny blooms bring joy to the dullest of winter days and, in my book, that makes them natures superstars.

Whilst enjoying these beautiful winter plants I am aware that I have not positioned them in the best places. The witch hazel is planted against an appallingly scruffy fence and the sweet box is behind the twisted hazel in a forgotten corner of the garden.

Its about time the witch hazel is given the very best background so she can really shine. A covering of bottle green ivy on the fence or closely clipped pyracantha will make a great foil. And the sweet box? Unlike the witch hazel she doesn’t mind being moved so, when the flowers are spent, I will carefully dig, keeping a good root ball of soil, and move her close to the path so that next winter, when I stroll through the garden, natures orchestra will begin with the soft, gentle notes of sarcococca reminding me that natures splendour is right here under my very nose.

Happy new year everyone !