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Winter Fragrance

Daphne is a classic winter scent and a sprig will perfume a whole room. Photo - Gail Mankus/

Scents and sensuality 

Linda Ross steps into the winter garden for aromatherapy of the botanical kind. 

I like having a perfume to look forward to in each season. A mix of citrus and mint seem to me the perfect way to wake up come early spring. Orange blossom and mint bush make the spring garden zing. In summer the heavy, heady scents of frangipani and gardenia seem to come laced with coconut-oil sunscreens and memories of beach holidays. An autumn favourite is the honey fragrance of butterfly bush and in winter my perfume palette broadens to include the musky earthy smell of fallen leaves, spicy clove scents and sweet perfumes.


Paper Bush (Edgeworthia chrysantha). Photo -

Memory is often attached to fragrance. Memories of childhood are linked with different flowers at certain times of the year. You can trigger memory, and a kind of romance, by planting the scents from your mother’s or grandmother’s garden. You do need to think about where you position these time capsules of scent, however. A fragrant plant will be of no benefit at the bottom of the garden. But the same plant, placed near an outdoor table or bench or in a courtyard, by a pathway, under a window or by a front door will enchant.

Plan for perfume in the garden in the same way you design with colour and texture. Don’t place too many perfumed plants too close together, and consider how sweet, spicy and lemon scents can intermingle or distinguish different parts of the garden. To be sure of the fragrance you desire, buy plants from the nursery now, while they are in flower. In winter especially, fragrance is an extra dimension in the garden. Here are some of the best sweet, spicy and lemon scents the season has to offer.



There are numerous climbers and small shrubs with sweet winter perfumes. Of the winter-flowering scramblers the best-perfumed is winter honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima). A sprig of its creamy yellow blooms will perfume a room for days. Better behaved is the sasanqua camellia ‘Scentuous’, which makes a glorious, sweetly scented hedge. Also from a Chinese background are ‘Heaven Scent’ and ‘Pearly Gates’, both relatively recent cultivars of Osmanthus delvayi. They have white, strongly scented flowers on a shrub of about 1.5m. Gardeners in cold zones could match one of these with paper bush (Edgeworthia paprifera) which has striking yellow flowers in the dead of winter. 


Winter honeysuckle is a well-behaved shrub and nothing like the other weedy honeysuckles! Photo - Jo Whitworth/


Much better known is Daphne odora, the classic sweet winter fragrance (pictured at the beginning of the article). Although daphne can be tiresomely difficult, her clusters of small, starry, pale-pink and ivory flowers are winter stand-outs. If you can provide a spot with morning sun, protection from cold winds, moist, cool, humus-rich, well-drained soil that is slightly acid, she should last a decade.

Also sweet are the pretty, starry flowers of the native rock orchid (Dendrobium speciosissimum), which flowers in August and is perfect for growing under or within the dappled shade of trees. Despite the delicate appearance, these plants are tough as nails.


Sandra’s favourite winter perfume belongs to Luculia gratissima, and it’s somewhere between vanilla and gardenia on the scent spectrum. Luculia’s large heads of slender-tubed, rosy-pink flowers fill the house with fragrance. Sandra picks whole armfuls and crushes the stems to help them last longer in the vase. The foliage is good too: lustrous green leaves with burnished tints in autumn. Luculia can be temperamental and hard to establish, but once it settles in, it makes a superb shrub. It’s original home is high in the Himalayas yet it is perfectly happy in suburban Sydney. Our three-metre rounded shrub sits against a north-facing wall. It needs frost protection, a little limed soil, and Yates Anti Rot during wet weather.


Luculia gratissima. Photo - Linda Ross


Many small-growing shrubs with spicy perfumes make great hedges or stand-alone feature shrubs. I would select either Viburnum x burkwoodii, with clusters of spiced, carnation-scented white flowers in July and August; or Viburnum carlesii which I think has an even better perfume - a far-reaching, sweet clove fragrance. Wintersweet (Chimonanthus praecox) has tiny yellow flowers in mid-winter with a fragrance like jasmine mixed with jonquils. Osmanthus fragrans is a medium-sized shrub that will remain completely invisible to everyone until it flowers, when it’s apricot-like scent makes it a star attraction. The scented leaves of the knee-high cardamon also warrant a mention when spice is the topic. The leaves give off their perfume when crushed or after rain. The plant is best grown in partial shade in warm climates, and given plenty of water.


The delicious spicy clove scent of Korean spice viburnum (Viburnum carlesii 'compactum') makes it a winter attraction in the garden. Photo - Mark Turner/



Brown boronia (Boronia megastigma) is a popular nomination for fragrant native award. It occurs naturally between Perth and Albany. Flowers are cup-shaped, with a gold interior and milk chocolate-to-burgundy exterior. Buy it now, when it is in flower because some varieties have the good looks, without the fragrance! Brown boronia prefers nutrient-poor, well-drained soils and no humidity.

Rainy days are perfect for smelling the leaves of lemon myrtle (Backhousia citriodora), which is native to the rainforests between Brisbane and Mackay. The rain seems to release the lemon-scented oil from the leaves to refresh the air and revitalise the gardener. This tree prefers growing in part-shade or dappled sun and makes a good privacy screen to 5m. Its oil has antibacterial qualities and is used in food, teas and soaps.


Lemon-scented myrtle (Backhousia citriodora). Photo - Tatiana Gerus/


The best winter-perfumed feature tree would have to be Michelia doltsopa ‘Silver Cloud’. Sandra and Graham have planted this outside their bedroom window for perfume, and privacy. It’s a stately pyramid-shaped tree to a well-behaved 6m. The ivory, magnolia-shaped flowers smell like a tropical lemon – fresh and refreshing – and last for up to three months. They are borne on top of zesty lime-green foliage.



Magnolia doltsopa 'Silver Cloud'. Photo - Linda Ross

Text: Linda Ross

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Author: Linda Ross