10 plants to sow in the garden now

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While many of us may be starting to think about Halloween and Christmas, now is the perfect time to think about winter scent and to get gardening while the soil is still warm and before the frosts and snow come.

One of the loveliest things in January is winter scent. It can surprise you on the wind, almost knock you over with its rich deliciousness or be gently subtle, encouraging you to sniff out the floral delight.

When we think of scent we invariably remember warmer months filled with roses, wisteria, honeysuckle and carnations, but even in the very changeable weather of January, which is often cold, wet and unwelcoming, a few choice scented plants will beckon you out of the house. There are even indoor flowering plants, which can fill a room with their heady aromas.

Many pansies, violas, polyanthus and primroses, which are all available now from garden centres, have a delicate scent, which draws you in. They will need to be deadheaded to continue their floral displays, and of course revive their scent.

A couple of minutes a day, perhaps with a cuppa in one hand while still in your warm slippers, is all it takes to keep your winter displays looking their best. Viola ‘Most Scented’ Mix will add scent in a sheltered position from January through to May. This is a collection of brightly coloured violas. They be smaller than pansies, but you get twice as many.

Alongside the violas why not try Polyanthus ‘Most Scented’ Mix, with a delicate, fresh spring scent with blue, red, pink, yellow or white flowers. Polyanthus are brilliant for busy households, as they are quick to establish, are a reliable hardy perennial (meaning they will come back year-after-year) and will fill containers, borders or pots with long-lasting displays and scent for five months.

When it comes to scented shrubs, you are spoilt for choice and October and November are the perfect time to plant them. The winter honeysuckle, Lonicera fragrantissima, will flower from December to March and produces fragrant, creamy-white flowers before the leaves appear.

Plant it close to an entrance or pathway so that you can catch its lingering scent each time you pass. The sweet box, Sarcococca hookeriana var. digyna, produces clusters of small creamy-white flowers and dark green leaves. The strong scent is vanilla-like and is one of the headiest winter fragrances.

This too will flower from December to March. For something a little different, why not try wintersweet, Chimonanthus praecox, which has sulphur-yellow flowers flashed with purple inside from December to February.

The sweetly scented flowers make this a great shrub to take cuttings for a vase indoors, to create a fragrant indoor display. For small highly scented pale pink blooms you cannot beat Daphne odora, flowering from January to March, and is evergreen.

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If you want to try your hand at forcing bulbs indoors then one of the easiest is paperwhite daffodils, such as Narcissus papyraceus ‘Ziva’, with highly fragrant white flowers. October is the perfect month for planting them. Plant them close together in shallow pots or bowls filled with bulb fibre or compost, making sure the growing tips stick out just above the top of the compost.

Put them in a cold, dark place such as a shed or garage, for eight weeks, which will encourage the flowering stems and roots to develop. Keep the bulb fibre or compost just moist. When you see that new shoots are about four to 5cm tall, bring them into a dark room away from bright sunlight. The leaves will gradually turn green and you can slowly increase the light levels as they do. The flowers will soon follow. With practice you can have daffodils in flower on your Christmas dining table, otherwise aim for January and February.

For something more exotic, and ideal for the enthusiast, have a go at growing the zygopetalum orchid, Zygopetalum ‘Trozy Blue’, which has flowers in an interesting mix of green, plum and purple. Early in the morning the flowers produce a fresh, sweet scent. Position this orchid in a bright room, but not in direct light.

Another more common indoor bulb to try growing is prepared hyacinths. Hyacinthus orientalis ‘City of Haarlem’ has soft yellow flowers and a deliciously sweet scent. Combine it with blue and white hyacinths and you can fill a room with their sweet perfume. If planted in September, these will flower from December to March, and once finished flowering can be planted outside in the garden.

For carpets of scented, colourful flowers in your garden, containers, pots or borders you cannot beat Cyclamen coum with delicate pink flowers from December to April. I love getting my nose down low just to sniff their slight fragrance. These are perfect for a woodland setting, around the base of trees and in open lawns.

For clematis lovers, there are a few that flower from December to February and are fragrant. The fern-leaved clematis, Clematis cirrhosa var. balearica has scented creamy-white flowers speckled inside with maroon ‘freckles’ and bronze-tinted evergreen leaves.

It is borderline hardy, so grow it in a warm spot in the garden, in full sun or partial shade. Clematis cirrhosa var. purpurascens ‘Freckles’ has creamy-pink scented flowers speckled inside with red-brown freckles.

For a rare and unusual form of Clematis try growing Clematis napaulensis which is dormant throughout the warmer months and then from November to March has pendulous, scented, green-yellow bells stuffed with attractive red-purple stamens.

I know it’s hard to imagine right now in October, but look forward to the wintery months when you can sit near forced narcissi paperwhites, prepared hyacinths or hippeastrum (amaryllis) with a cup of tea or even sit outside near a newly planted shrub with its heady scent. The perfect remedy for the winter blues.

Mark’s winter planting suggestions

  1. Pansies
  2. Violas
  3. Polyanthus
  4. Primroses
  5. Winter honeysuckle
  6. Wintersweet
  7. White daffodils
  8. Zygopetalum orchid
  9. Cyclamen coum

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