Cultivating Life: February/March 2013

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Four of my favorite shrubs to get a Portland gardener through winter

By LeAnn Locher, PQ Monthly
  I sniffed the air as I exited my car in the driveway. I could smell it. A plant in bloom. Big fragrant bloom. I inhaled deeply, trying to determine from where this scent was coming. I was doing my best impersonation of the creepy child catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. I could smell this plant, but I couldn’t see it. I knew it was somewhere. My neighbor appeared and gladly announced it was coming from her backyard and followed up by asking if I wanted to see it. Of course.
Sarcococca Sarcococca
As we walked around her garage and into the backyard, the perpetrator of the most gorgeous of scents showed herself: Sarcococca confusa in full winter bloom. Not a showy shrub, but she does what she does at the time we need it most: February. There are plants like Sarcococca that get us gardeners through our long wet rainy season. Some call it winter, but for those of us who live in Oregon, we know it as the trying tough time of not doing much digging in the dirt. But there are always those plants that do their thing at the times we need a joyful moment of nature and the garden, and I’ve compiled a list of my favorites.
  • Sweet Box Sarcococca — I’ve got my eye on Purple Stem Sweet Box Sarcococca hookeriana var. digyna because of the narrow glossy leaves and the deep red stems. It’s nicely sized for a small garden, is evergreen, and produces dramatic black berries. But it’s the scent when in full bloom that draws me in. Grow one not only for your own satisfaction, but for the delight of your neighbors.
  • Arnold Promise Witch Hazel Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Arnold Promise’ — The wispy tendrils of a witch hazel in bloom during our dreary grey skies or against a backdrop of dark conifers lifts a heart in February. Easy to maintain, once it has established a deep root system, witch hazel requires little to no care except for deep admiration.
Daphne Daphne
  • Daphne odora technically blooms in early spring, but it’s in February I watch the buds on mine form and grow, and with a few days of warmer weather, they are sure to begin their gracious opening. The scent of a daphne in bloom is sugary sweet, and even the tiniest clipping or bouquet brought indoors can fill a room. I’m growing ‘Aureo-marginata’ because its variegated leaves brighten up the darker time of the year.
  • Paperbush Plant Edgeworthia chrysantha is a wonder of nature, providing a graceful structure of a plant that blooms while it’s bare of leaves: in winter. The intensely fragrant flowers bloom for six to eight weeks. It’s a triple threat: beauty, scent, and even its stems are gorgeous. Help me understand why I don’t have one in my garden?


There’s so much to do in the garden right now but it feels so good to be doing it. Uncovering the bare ground, removing the die back from last season — which means removing the brown—, cutting back growth to create space for the new. Sharing space with the birds, the smell of soil, stretching my body into the familiar reach with a rake, the constant squatting for weed pulling, and the familiar path walk from the front to back gardens. It’s a pattern of activity I forget for several months of the year. And when I return to it, I’m reminded how much I love it, and how much I’ve missed it during the quiet dark days of winter.
LeAnn Locher is an OSU Extension Master Gardener and loves to connect with other home arts badasses at