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Blooms and Scent in Winter

This article was first published on 27 Jul 2011.



When you think about it, mid winter flowering is a pretty big ask of any plant. We expect them to put on their Hawaiian shirts and look cheerful in the face of frost, biting southerlies and the occasional snow storm. On top of that they discover that even if they do make the effort, all the bees are on a go-slow and will only come to the party if it’s over 10 degrees Celsius.

There are a few, that are undeterred by all this and we can always count on plants like Chimonanthus and Hamamelis, or even a few early rhododendrons, to lift the mood. One favourite though is the deciduousViburnum ×bodnantense 'Dawn' which can flower from autumn through to spring. Individually each flower is quite small but they come out in clusters that rival some camellias for size. The buds break rose red and then fade to white flushed pink as the flowers expand. On warmer days you may also catch its sweet fragrance drifting by as it signals any passing pollinator.

It will grow in any reasonably moist loam and can grow to about 3m tall in sun or part shade. Such easy cultivation makes them ideal for trickier spots in the garden. In the Dunedin Botanic Garden Rhododendron Dell they are growing to the west of the azalea garden in a patch where rhododendrons struggled for years. Now instead, Viburnum ×bodnantense 'Dawn' and several other viburnum bring vitality to the site regardless of the season.

Doug Thomson is curator of the Rhododendron Dell at Dunedin Botanic Garden.