By Karen Haw, The Town Centre Nursery, Mirboo North

THE skies may be grey and dull but in the garden, there is plenty of colour to be found.
There are many shrubs/trees in flower and some are renowned for their perfume. The most popular is Daphne odora.
Famed for its intense rose-citrus perfume, Daphne odora flowers in winter and early spring and fills the air with its delightful fragrance. The waxy star shaped flowers bloom in tight clusters amid leathery dark green leaves.
Daphne belongs to a genus of around 50 species of shrubs but it is Daphne odora that is well known for its perfume. Daphne odora is available with pink or white flowers. The white flowers are renowned to have a lemon scent.
Daphne grows best in fertile, slightly acid, peaty, well-drained soil. A newer introduction is Daphne perfume princess. There has been mixed reviews about this plant but I have found it fantastic in my garden both as a potted plant and planted.
Daphne perfume princess will tolerate full sun. It is a cross between Daphne odora and Daphne bholua, resulting in a hardier plant with larger flowers. It’s the earliest and longest flowering of all Daphnes, with one of the sweetest fragrances, and is prized for its profusion of large blush pink (softly fading to white) sweet perfumed flowers.
One of my favourite shrubs/small trees flowering now would be the witch hazel. The flowers appear clustered along the bare stems and their dainty “ribbon like” flowers are sweetly scented.
Witch hazel originates from China and there are a few varieties in this family, but the prettiest and most fragrant is Hamaelis mollis. These stunning small trees are smothered in flowers and come in yellow, orange or red.
Varieties that are available include Pallida with bright sulphur yellow flowers and broad oval leaves turning yellow in autumn, Diane has red flowers and large leaves that colour a rich red in autumn. Arnold promise has bright yellow flowers and blooms later than the others. Sunburst has clusters of lemon-yellow spider-like flowers with yellow-orange autumn colour and Jelena flowers are large, forming in dense clusters and are yellow suffused with a rich coppery red, so as to appear orange, foliage turns orange, red and scarlet in autumn.
Another old-time favourite blooming this time of year are the hellebores and over the last few years they have enjoyed resurgence in popularity.
Their slowly emerging flowers in the middle of winter; attractive evergreen foliage and tolerance of the tough Australian climate have turned them into must have plants for the cooler gardens. The flowering time of hellebores is typically between June and September – July and August the peak months.
An attraction of hellebores is the longevity of their flowering. Each individual flower can look good for weeks as, unlike many other plants, the flowers will persist on the plant rather than fall off. Over many weeks, these flowers will often fade from the original – pink flowering hellebore may fade to tan; white to green.
Due to the work of plant breeders over many years, hellebores are available in a wonder range of colours and larger more upright flowers.
The flowers are showy and can be found in a stunning range of colours from white, through to primrose yellow, burgundy and nearly black.
There is an increasing range of double flowered forms and, with spots, strokes and blotches the variety is almost infinite. One of the main breeders is the well-renowned Peter Leigh, the owner of Post Office Farm and his plants are available from most nurseries.
Peter began growing hellebores as a keen amateur collector in the early 1990s. He began importing hellebore seed from overseas and soon ran out of room in his small Brunswick backyard.
His nursery is now situated at Ashbourne, near Woodend, and it is due to Peter’s dedication to hellebores that we have some of the amazing plants we have now. Hellebores are easy to grow and grow well under deciduous trees – they like sun in winter and shade in summer and look good co-planted with daffodils and other bulbs.
Spring is approaching quickly and if you haven’t already it is time to spray roses with a clean-up spray of lime sulphur. This is generally done after pruning. It is also important to spray stone fruit with lime sulphur or a copper spray to help avoid the dreaded leaf curl. If possible, do several sprays every couple of weeks until and at bud swell.