"What's the lovely smell?" one of my daughters asked recently, during a moment of blissful quiet on the verandah. I could see nothing flowering from where we were sitting and was mystified.
"Maybe the evergreen honeysuckle near the garage?" I said. "Or the daphne? Lots of wattles are coming out."
It was only after walking around the garden and picking every scented flower I could find that I realised how many there are in July, enough for lovely big posies for the girls and another for us.
My purple Cootamundra wattle (Acacia baileyana "Purpurea") normally flowers in August but the incredibly mild winter has brought it out a month early. The flowers are a darker yellow than the ordinary Cootamundra and open about a fortnight earlier.
Mahonia japonica is an amazing winter-flowering evergreen, with huge, glossy, pinnate leaves and sprays of fragrant, pale yellow flowers. I planted one in March and this winter it produced two flowers, so I'm hoping it has a great future in my Central Tablelands garden.
It's one of the bigger mahonias, eventually reaching two metres high and wide so needs a spacious corner. It thrives in sun or shade. Winter honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima) is another big shrub but with a more subtle presence than mahonia, with tiny oval, semi-evergreen leaves and heavily fragrant cream flowers. It clips well and makes a neat, drought tolerant hedge, flowering for a good six weeks.
Laurustinus (Viburnum tinus, 3m.) is often dismissed as 'that old thing' and relegated to a distant corner, but there's no better hardy evergreen for a big country garden. Mine suffered dreadfully last summer with leaves turning crispy brown but all have fully recovered and put out new growth.
Laurustinus is decorative for months, from when its dark red buds appear in April until the lacey clusters of white flowers fade in spring, their faint but pervasive scent penetrating the garden.
Many roses flower through mild winters, "Perle d'Or" has bloomed on and on this year and still bears a few apricot flowers. Sweet smelling jonquils flourish in mild districts as their bulbs don't need pre-chilling. "Erlicheer" burst forth this week and its double cream flowers last well indoors.
Algerian iris "Mary Barnard" is another winter winner, with dark violet flowers that will scent a large room. Wallflowers flower for many weeks from July. I specially love Erisymum mutabile whose petals mutate from buff to yellow to plummy red as they age. Prune hard in late spring - new plants root readily from the prunings.
Daphne odora is everyone's favourite small shrub, not surprising as it's both beautiful and fragrant. For a change, try shade -loving Sweet Box (Sarcococca ruscifolia) which to me has the best smell of all.
Daphne odora is everyone's favourite small shrub, not surprising as it's both beautiful and fragrant.
A knee high, suckering evergreen, it has shiny foliage and unobtrusive, cream flowers in July followed by bright scarlet berries. After all this, what was intriguing my daughter? To my amazement it turned out that she could smell the leaves of Cistus 'Silver Pink', which to me have no aroma at all. Once again, nature was having the last laugh.