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Minter: Winter flowering shrubs are treasures for all

Master gardener Brian Minter says adding shrubs, and its plentiful colours, can provide comfort on greyer days this season.
Master gardener Brian Minter has tips on how to light up your home this winter with seasonal colourful flowering shrubs.

With our mild fall so far, a wealth of flowering shrubs have been blooming in many gardens since mid-November — there’s a lot of colour out there. 

Unfortunately, some folks have yet to discover the beauty winter-flowering shrubs can bring to a winter garden. 

To me, a fragrant Chinese witch hazel (Hamamelis mollis), blooming in mid-winter, is more special than a whole row of flowering plums in May. 

Winter-flowering shrubs provide that lift we need during those cold, grey days, and they are a lovely reminder that spring is on its way. 

Here are some winter treasures that everyone can enjoy.

The star-like yellow blossoms of Jasmine nudiflorum will soon open and will continue to flower until mid-March.

Last year, I saw an artistic bouquet of these branches in someone's home, and the old-fashioned charm of these flowers was a match for any spring bouquet.

These shrubs are actually a semi-vine and look smashing against an old wall or rustic fence, and if you can provide a south or west exposure, the blossoms will appear earlier and bloom more reliably throughout the winter.

Without a doubt, the most perfumed plant in winter is the Himalayan sweet box (sarcococca). This evergreen winter wonder loves shade and comes in three heights.

The lowest growing, S. humilis, is often used as a ground cover, especially under trees. Sarcococca confusa is a mid-sized plant, growing about 24 inches (60 cm). The largest is S. ruscifolia, which tops out at about three feet (1 m). 

All of them have tiny white flowers, and depending upon the location, are now beginning to flower and perfume up gardens — a true delight so unexpected in winter. It is a "must have" for any garden.

I have mentioned deciduous winter-flowering Viburnum 'Pink Dawn' so many times, but it is still one of my winter favourites. 

Its fragrant clusters of tiny pink blossoms just keep coming. It will throw out a few blossoms in fall, then from early February onward, more and more blossoms will open until this shrub is a mass of pink through to April. We too often overlook a distant cousin of Viburnum "Pink Dawn," the evergreen Viburnum tinus "Spring Bouquet."

It is full of white blossoms now. When planted in a protected, sunny location, "Spring Bouquet" never seems to stop blooming. Its blossoms look exceptional contrasted with its bronze buds and steel blue berries. Its branches are nice to bring inside as cuts, and they make a great combination with fresh daffodils.

Winter heathers, or more correctly Erica carneas, are very important to all our gardens and are being used more frequently now. 

They perform very well in perennial borders, and they make sensational ground covers too. Plant them in groupings of threes or fives for a greater impact.

Dwarf conifers look more interesting when planted with such companions. Plant your ericas in well-draining soil or root rot will put an abrupt end to your display.

After mid-March, the spring-flowering shrubs take over, and we forget all about winter for another year. 

Next fall, however, when the last of the gorgeous fall foliage disappears, wouldn't it be nice to look forward to these delightful winter flowers? 

Well, you can only enjoy them if you plant them. So, visit your favourite garden shop and discover the pleasures of winter- flowering shrubs.