The Casual Gardener: Jasmine shines in mid-winter

Flowers are rare in January which makes winter jasmine all the more welcome

Winter jasmine is best grown in full sun. Picture by PA Photo/thinkstockphotos

JANUARY is always a long month – dark, damp and cold to boot. But amid the bleakness there are signs of hope. The days are still short – roughly one third of the 24-hour period is daylight – yet sunset gets later each day without us much noticing.

Believe it or not, in the almost five weeks since the winter solstice, we've gained 45 minutes more daylight at the end of the day and by the time we get to St Brigid's Day on February 1, we'll have made up an extra hour before dusk and there'll be more than 90 minutes' daylight over the 24-hour period compared to December 21.

It's this gradual but steady astronomical movement that triggers the changes in nature all around us. Already many spring flowering bulbs have broken the surface of the soil and before we know it there'll be dandelions springing up on the road verges and the trees will be budding in anticipation of the seasons ahead.

But of course between now and when we're outside enjoying the spring sunshine, there'll be plenty of cold and wintry conditions. For the wildlife in our gardens the resources and recesses we provide can often mean the difference between life and death – whether it's bird food, a moss-covered stone where a frog can hibernate or the dead stalks of a herbaceous perennial giving refuge for insects.

While the majority of pollinating insects emerge in summer, many living for just a few short days, others are active over winter. On brighter days hoverflies will seek out warmer surfaces to bask with the sun on their backs, while honeybees may also fleetingly emerge.

Honeybees do not hibernate like other bees but cluster together in the hive to stay warm.

Flowers on which the insects can feed are rare and therefore all the more valuable. Last week, this column looked at hellebores, one of the few perennials to bloom in mid-winter, and today we feature another star of the colder months – winter-flowered jasmine.

The jasmine genus hails from the east and consists of around 200 evergreen or deciduous shrubs, many of which are climbers. The flowers, often prized for their aromatic properties, are star-shaped, coming in white, pink or yellow.

Jasminum nudiflorum, the winter flowered variety, is a medium-sized deciduous shrub whose long branches arc and criss-cross. Originating in China and popular in European gardens since the mid-19th century, it is by no means an elegant plant and can be rather wayward but its appeal lies in the clusters of small, bright yellow flowers that appear from now through to spring. Unfortunately, the scent from these diminutive blooms is negligible, unless you're an insect.

Winter jasmine is best grown in full sun against a south facing wall or somewhere it can spread itself or scramble and spill out. But unlike many of the jasmine family, winter jasmine will need supported by trellis or wires, as its branches do not intertwine. A regular prune will help it retain a more formal shape and stimulate fresh floriferous growth.

Generally disease free, its reliability has led the Royal Horticultural Society to bestow Jasminum nudiflorum with the Award of Garden Merit (AGM). A cultivar worth seeking out is Jasminum nudiflorum ‘Aureum', a variegated variety with cream and green foliage and bright evergreen stems, reaching three meters in height.

Propagation is relatively straightforward and is best achieved by layering or semi-hardwood cuttings in late spring to early summer.

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