Winter Shrubs in the Churchyard

The writer Ronald Blythe, best known for his book Akenfield, first published in 1969 and a classic description of English Village life, but author of many books, and a weekly contributor to the Church Times for a score or more years, had a habit on 1st January of seeing how many different flowers are blooming in his garden on this day.  The observant will conclude, “a surprisingly large number.”

 

Walking from the rectory front gate with winter jasmine one side and viburnum on the other, and crossing Church Hill to the steps above St Mary’s Church, there is an example of a different, but equally beautiful, sweet smelling shrub, that we learnt today is called winter-flowering honeysuckle.  There is another mature bush of the same plant a little further along the railings, but, down below, and looking a bit damp this morning is what Jean describes as, “something really special.”  Helen picked this up in conversation with her this morning on the way to T Pot at the Rectory Classroom, taking the route around the church, past the south door.  Chimonanthus praecox (Winter Sweet) it is called, and it is worth a look at the moment, as its flowers are just opening.

 

Lifting down my copy of The Reader’s Digest Book of Creative Gardening, I read the following: “Winter Sweet is either a joy or a disaster.  Experienced gardeners plant the shrub knowing that they must not expect it to produce flowers for seven years - and that even then it may be lost in a single violent frost.”  Yes, well, I understand what Jean means about it being, “something really special.”  I think that it is a "must see" at the moment, if you are passing through the St Mary's Church grounds, as the writer of the book I am consulting goes on in this vein: “..... in a good year the blossoms that earn this deciduous shrub its common name are so unusual in shape and so exquisitely scented that they are worth the hazards……. A few flowering twigs will scent a whole room.”

 

John Mann

The unusual mid-winter flowering Winter Sweet. In bloom in St Mary's Churchyard at the moment