Plants to look for in January

Camellia 'Winton' - S Turner Chimonanthus praecox - S. Turner Garrya elliptica K Keeton Iris unguicularis A Hunter
Camellia 'Winton'
This shrub is a delight in mid-winter, skirting the path parallel to the main path leading up to the fountain in the AGM (Award of Garden Merit) Border. 2m high with a lax, spreading habit, the branchlets are covered in rosy buds which develop into delicate single blooms of a soft pale pink. This camellia is a hybrid between C. cuspidata, introduced from W. China by EH Wilson in 1900, and C. saluenensis introduced in 1918 by George Forrest and was produced at Hillier's Nursery around 1930. Forrest was sponsored by JC Williams of Caerhays Castle in Cornwall.
Chimonanthus praecox
Chimonanthus praecox (Wintersweet), can be found at the top of the Asia garden, near the Tibetan cherry on a mound, across the path from the entrance to the bearpit. The translucent yellow flowers, borne before the leaves, have a delicious spicy perfume and are widely used in China in tea, pot pourri and to scent linen. In 1766, the Earl of Coventry received Wintersweet from China, and it was planted in his new Robert Adam conservatory at Croome Park, Worcester, where it lived for 30 years, by which time plantsmen to whom cuttings had been supplied realised that glass protection was unnecessary.
Garrya elliptica
This is an attractive evergreen shrub which enlivens the winter garden. Cascades of long, soft grey-green catkins adorn this plant from January to March. There are two plants of this species in the Garden, one along the wall outside the Robert Marnock Garden, and the other by the Botanical Road entrance in the Birch Hill area. This plant was introduced to the British Isles in 1828 by the intrepid Scottish plant hunter David Douglas. He named it in honour of Nicholas Garry of the Hudson Bay Company, who helped him in his plant-collecting expeditions. He found it growing in scrub on dry hills in the coastal ranges of southern California to Oregon, where he did a great deal of his plant hunting.
Iris unguicularis
30 steps inside Thompson Road entrance, on the right, you will easily find one of winter’s true treasures: the exquisite Iris unguicularis (Algerian iris). From clumps of rather tough, grassy leaves emerge the single buds, successively over several months. The delicate, finely-veined lavender flowers produce a sweet scent when warmed by winter sun. This dry, sunny spot suits these Mediterranean natives.
Lonicera purpusii K Keeton Lonicera 'Winter Beauty' S Turner Mahonia japonica S Turner Mahonia oiwakensis subsp lomariifolia S Turner
Lonicera x purpusii
Winter flowering honeysuckles brighten up the Gardens during the cold months. One large shrub can be found in the centre of the Robert Marnock garden of the hybrid Lonicera x purpusii. It produces fragrant, cream-coloured flowers attracting any passing bees when the weather is mild.
Lonicera x purpusii 'Winter Beauty'
Growing beneath the Scots pine, the delicious scent of Lonicera x purpusii 'Winter Beauty' fills the air as one approaches the fountain. The almost bare stems are covered with pretty, white flowers which gratifyingly last for many weeks. 'Winter Beauty' holds the Award of Garden Merit (1993) and was raised at Hilliers from a cross made in 1966 between Lonicera x purpusii and L. standishii.
Mahonia japonica
The genus mahonia was named after Bernard McMahon, an Irish American horticulturalist in Philadelphia who was Thomas Jefferson's gardening mentor in the early 19th century. But the winter flowering mahonias grown here are of eastern origin, and developed in Northern Ireland and England between the 1940s and 1960s.
On the left of the entrance to the Bear Pit, a swathe of M. japonica has lovely, lily-of-the-valley scented flowers in December. Although widely grown in Japan, hence the name, this plant originated in China.
Mahonia oiwakensis subsp. lomariifolia
On the West Lawn, across the path from the Rose Garden, grows M.oiwakensis subsp. lomariifolia. This was introduced by Lawrence Johnston of Hidcote, after plant hunting with George Forrest in Yunnan in 1931.
Mahonia x media 'Lionel Fortescue' S Turner Prunus 'Autumnalis' K Keeton Rhododendron 'Christmas Cheer' W Bennett Sarcococca hookeriana var. K Keeton
Mahonia x media 'Lionel Fortescue'
It was the previous two Mahonia species which produced some beautiful hybrids, some by chance and others deliberate: in the Gardens, M. x media 'Lionel Fortescue' is the very handsome tall shrub at the bottom of the Asia Garden, just across the path from the Evolution Garden.
Prunus subhirtella ‘Autumnalis’
Most of the cherries are known to flower in the spring, but this tree is unique in that it flowers from November to March. It is a small spreading tree only reaching up to 7.5 m, and as wide as tall. The flowers are semi-double, pink in the bud, and opening almost white. On entering the Gardens through the main Gatehouse, this exquisite cherry can be seen on the main lawn to the right of the path.
P. subhirtella was originally introduced from Japan in the late 19th century. ‘Autumnalis’ is thought to have been distributed commercially in this country around 1910. It received the RHS Award of Garden Merit in 1924.
Rhododendron ‘Christmas Cheer’
This compact plant, with dense foliage, can be found just inside the Asian Garden across the path from the Evolution Garden and close to Mahonia 'Lionel Fortescue'. There is also a large clump at the entrance to the bearpit. Originating in an Edinburgh nursery in 1895, this hybrid Rhododendron used to be protected under glass so that it would be in flower at Christmas. One of its parents, R. caucasicum, grows from NE Turkey to Georgia at heights of up to 3,000m and temperatures of -20 degrees C.
Sarcococca hookeriana
Sarcococcas, (Sweet box, Christmas box), were first introduced to Britain as far back as the early part of the 19th century from China. Sarcococca hookeriana was the first species introduced into cultivation, collected by Joseph Hooker in Sikkim, China, and is still one of the most common species in gardens. These shrubs are generally grown for their attractive evergreen foliage, and their small, but extremely fragrant flowers which are produced during the winter months. The flowers are followed by red or black berries. The Gardens are the home of the National Collection (Plant Heritage) and grow in several areas, but most of the more recent plantings can be found in and around the Robert Marnock Garden.
Sarcococca wallichii K Keeton Skimmia 'Kew Green' S Turner Sycopsis sinensis S Turner
Sarcoccoca wallichii
Sarcoccoca wallichii, first collected as long ago as 1821, did not make its way into cultivation until 1994, when the plants were introduced from Darjeeling. This plant may grow much taller, but does possess the characteristic young green stems of the genus with the yellow-tipped, white flowers. Flowering commences in the autumn through the winter. The fruit is purple-black. Other species of this shrub are still being collected by modern day plant hunters and are being introduced to this country.
Skimmia x confusa 'Kew Green'
This is a shrub of so many star qualities: the densely mounded foliage looks good all year round, with pointed shiny leaves, aromatic when crushed; the lovely greenish flower buds in large lilac-like trusses last from late autumn to February when they start to open as creamy blooms exuding a wonderful perfume; it is happy in sun or shade and tolerates urban conditions.
S. x confusa 'Kew Green' is a hybrid (originating at Kew) between S. anquetilia and S. japonica - natives of the Himalayas and E. Asia. 'Kew Green' is male and so does not produce berries, but is recognised as a valuable pollinator and attracts butterflies. It holds the Award of Garden Merit and a large clump grows in the AGM Border, just uphill from the South Lodge.
Sycopsis sinensis
Along with witch hazel (Hamamelis) and Persian ironwood (Parrotia) this unusual member of the Hamamelidaceae flowers profusely in winter, and also has no petals but subtly coloured stamens with glowing red anthers within brown bracts. It is a shapely, upright shrub, densely clothed in dark evergreen, ovate leaves. This interesting plant grows alongside beautifully scented Daphne bholua on the left of the path at the entrance to the Bearpit.
Ernest 'Chinese' Wilson introduced S. sinensis (the only species in cultivation of 7 in the genus) in 1901 for the Veitch nurseries, and it was given the old Award of Merit in 1926. Wilson found it at 4,000ft in Central China.