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New Year's Walk 1
by Daryl Pulis

It has been my habit for the last decade or more to take a walk around my garden on New Years Day to see what's blooming, and to see what needs to be changed. This year's visit was exceedingly brief, a few moments respite from long hours of helping to care for my seriously ill mother.

It was pure joy then to round the corner near my home and be welcomed by my favorite winter blooming shrub, Lonicera fragrantissima, which blooms by my gate. Commonly called Winter Honeysuckle, the Latin "fragrantissima" says it all. The inconspicuous white blooms are incredibly fragrant; sweet, with a hint of lemon, carrying a city block on the evening breeze. It's a wonderfully tough plant, too. I brought a small bit of barely rooted plant home from a friend some years ago. After the first season, it has gotten neither fertilizer nor water other than what nature provides. During the summer, it's a nicely mounded green shrub about 8 by 8 feet with dark green matte textured leaves. It gives no hint that it's something special until one late autumn day when its presence is announced by the delightful scent. It blooms all winter long, taking a few days time out when temperatures hit the teens, then bursting forth with dozens of new flowers as the weather warms.

Another great plant for winter fragrance is Himalayan Sweet Box, Sarcococca hookeriana humulis. This plant is a ground cover that thrives in dry shade. It's tough enough to grow underneath Southern Magnolias, and in my garden survived the summer in an area far out of the reach of the hose or my attention. I was amazed to find it still alive, it's glossy green foliage screaming to be freed from the Algerian Ivy trying to overtake it.

One plant that didn't make it through this tough summer in my garden is Daphne odora, the fragrant Winter Daphne. This persnickety plant is worth purchasing every half-dozen years if necessary because of its lemony fragrance in late winter. It needs perfect drainage and even moisture - a difficult combination to provide in our clay, but the shrub has been the hit of the Atlanta Flower Show since it was reintroduced nearly a decade ago. The glossy green foliage also looks terrific in the shady border.

Tiptoeing around the clumps of daffodils prematurely poking their noses out of the ground, I arrived at another smelly winter bloomer, Helleborus foetidus, or Stinking Hellebore. It's not as bad as the name would have you believe, though touching the plant does leave a nasty smell on your hands. The chartreuse blooms and evergreen foliage make it worth the trouble.

I walked up the path, following my nose. Yes! The Witchhazel is blooming! Of all my garden trees, Hamemelis virginiana, the native Witchhazel is my favorite. Its bluegreen leaves of summer turn an intense gold in late fall, and then tiny yellow and red blooms bursting with fragrance open from fall until late winter. There are many "famous" cultivars of Witchhazel, but for sheer toughness and fragrance, the native plant can't be beat. If you can't find our native Witchhazel, Hamemelis mollis 'Goldcrest' is a close second, but the highly touted 'Arnold's Promise', while having great flowers, is disappointingly without fragrance. 'Goldcrest' will be in my garden, too as soon as I can find a spot for it. Its later bloom time and larger flowers will make it a great companion for its native cousin.

No southern garden would be complete without Tea Olives and Camellias, and mine don't disappoint me. The Tea Olive (Camellia sinensis) has been blooming with sweet fragrance since early fall. Despite a freeze last month, the Camellias has popped some new buds, and promises more bloom in the next few weeks.

It is good to go to the garden in January, where the stalwart plants remind us that whatever the vagaries of human life, life does indeed go on.

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