You are met, as soon as you walk into the gardens at RHS Wisley, by the seductive scent of Sarcococca, the Winter Box, in this case with pure white threadlike flowers on arching stems, set against deep green leaves. It is a fragrance that carries on the wind, a siren-call to the few pollinators out there. I’m captivated too and there are many specimens and many varieties throughout the shadier glades of Battleston Hill, my destination this afternoon.
Hellebore Walburton’s Rosemary is planted in a great swathe on a raised bed also by the entrance to the gardens and it is a perfect way to display these nodding flowers – deep soil, dappled shade and the flowers presented at an accessible height – no crouching to peer, upside down, at the treasures shyly hiding their faces and watching the leaf litter.
The lower slopes of Battleston Hill, with deciduous tree canopy and equally deep leaf litter, are a perfect home for naturalised hellebores and those specimens that have chosen to break cover early will feature in the next blog – with the Camellias and other delights that caught my eye today. Just now it is fragrance, scent and perfume that are the order of the day.
From here it is up to the double herbaceous borders – cut back and mulched, with a few grasses not yet cut back – to the base of Battleston Hill and the start of the winding paths that run through the wooded slopes. Gunnera manicata is wintering beneath its cut leaves and the ageing heads of the Hydrangea paniculata collection are highlighted by the low sun.
The stars of Battleston Hill are undoubtedly the witch hazels, cultivars of Hamamelis x intermedia and Hamamelis mollis. There are plenty of mature specimens and a great variety in colour and flower form and density of wiry blossom on bare stems, as well as overall growth habits – some spreading, some more upright.
These are, to one degree or another, fragrant flowers with a spicy scent but they do not hold a candle to the Sarcococcas or the Daphne which little the slopes. The showiest of the Daphnes – or rather the largest plants – are all Daphne bholua cultivars and clearly it has been a good year for them – on many examples the flowers literally smothered the branches top-to-toe…
These are all fragrant to an almost obscene rich and spicy sweetness and I wonder that I do not grow one at home – a branchlet brought into the house would scent an entire room and though small, each individual small way flower, they are borne in great profusion.
I have Daphne odora Aureomarginata and Daphne odora Rebecca and they have a similar scent but are on the whole, always going to be smaller, lower growing plants whereas these D. bholua specimens are head high – and so therefore are the flowers.
A larger-flowered form, Grandiflora, was on sale in the Plant Centre with significantly large blooms though fewer of them – and none open on the examples on offer. I’ve yet to see a mature specimen so I’ll pass on judging whether bigger is better in this instance.
Camellias, Hellebores and more to follow.
You can always find what you are looking for in the pages of The Telegraph…