Fragrances of the Winter

Sweet smells in January? In Texas landscapes and gardens? Yep. And here are five of the finest.

Violas, pansies and violets These are closely related, and they all share that same rich aroma. Sweet violets (old-fashioned perennials) may have the strongest fragrance, but the funny thing about them is that they bloom extra early, before most other perennials. And their flowers are usually dark purple, and they’re down close to the ground so you may not even see them. But you’ll smell them! Violas and pansies pick up the slack and get all the acclaim, so the aroma is well known and loved.


Sweet alyssum has been a favorite since Great Grandma’s garden, but with the introduction of new types such as Snow Princess it’s ramped up to one of the super heroes. This little trailer stands up to the cold and blooms well into the summer. It’s a fine low border flower, and it does well spilling out of patio pots and planters.

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Hyacinths aren’t in bloom yet in most parts of Texas (unless you forced them in pots), but they soon will be. No plant is more fragrant. Flower spikes are purple, pink or white, and it only takes a handful of bulbs to produce enough blooms to perfume a whole landscape. Do note, however, that these are best treated as annuals. Plant fresh bulbs every fall, and give them the same “pre-chilling” you give tulips (45 days in the fridge at 45 degrees to simulate winter).


Stocks (always in the plural) look like snapdragons. These are fairly common florist flowers, so you may know their fragrance from an arrangement you’ve been given in the past. But not many Texans have grown them in their gardens and that’s a shame. They can handle light freezes (not as cold as pansies), and they don’t last into summer, so for most parts of Texas February is a great time to plant them. However, if you have a patio pot that needs an upright “thriller,” give stocks a try now. You can always move them into protection if necessary.


Winter honeysuckle I’ve saved the ugliest for last. This plant looks like a weed when it isn’t blooming. It’s a shrubby form of honeysuckle that grows to 4 to 5 feet tall and wide. Its flowers aren’t showy, and its foliage is unsightly. But its fragrance is straight-sent from Heaven. No nursery will have this thing offered for sale. Your best way to get one is go outside on a nice late January day. Take a brisk walk through an old part of your town. Take lots of deep breaths. When your nose detects something that smells even better than my wife’s beloved cinnamon rolls, that will probably be winter honeysuckle. Ask for a few cuttings.

Photo: I told you this plant is unsightly. The leaves are unattractive and the flowers aren’t much better – until you take in a deep breath!

Posted by Neil Sperry
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