Exactly 12 months after Best from the East, ‘bonanza of flower and scent’ brings out best show in 10 years

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To any of the five senses, the contrast with last year could not have been more striking.

As the half-term family crowds basked in 13 degrees of sunshine, the signs and the smell of spring at one of Yorkshire’s most celebrated gardens was everywhere.

Paul Cook, curator at RHS Harlow Carr gardens  with a  hamamelis,  commonly known as Witch Hazel

Paul Cook, curator at RHS Harlow Carr gardens with a hamamelis, commonly known as Witch Hazel

The weather had produced the horticultural equivalent of a whole box of fireworks going off.

“What we’d expect is phases of flower and scent from January to April, but it’s all coming at once,” said Paul Cook, curator at the Royal Horticultural Society’s showcase plot at Harlow Carr in Harrogate.

The society had intimated at the beginning of the half-term holiday that February could be unusually fragrant.

It now says that more than 15 varieties of witch hazel, mixed with snowdrops, honeysuckles and the sweet bouquet of winter box, have produced the county’s best winter show for a decade, in what Mr Cook called “a bonanza of flower and scent”.

It seemed a distant prospect a year ago today, when the anticyclone dubbed by meteorologists and media alike as the Beast from the East blew in from Siberia. As the temperature dipped to minus 11, some 22in of snow and gusts of up to 116mph were eventually recorded. The devastation to crops, livestock and property was put at £1.2bn.

This year, with hardly a frost so far, the winter appears to have given the region a wide berth.

“Most years, you get odd days when the temperature goes up but this year we’ve had no frost at all,” Mr Cook said.

“It will be interesting to see how the next few weeks go. We’re just enjoying this while it lasts – the weather could change again.”

He advised gardeners not to completely write off the winter, but to think again about how to stock their flower beds next year.

“Gardeners are sometimes wary of winter flowers. But when you see a witch hazel in full flower, you realise that it’s the sort of thing you could have in your own garden if you were a bit more adventurous with your winter planting.

“People often think the garden is dead in winter –it isn’t at all.”

Mr Cook also said the light winter rainfall could be a phenomenon for which we might pay in the spring. But he said: “I think generally the temperatures are going to stay higher than normal, with fewer frosts.”

Further south, the witch hazel is bigger still. “The scents in the garden are the most intense I can recall,” said “Matthew Pottage, curator at the RHS garden at Wisley in Surrey. “It is already amazing, but as it comes into full bloom over the next few weeks the scent will be incredible.”

However, the unseasonable winter might be less welcome in the long term for wildlife.

“Plants are very adaptable, but there are concerns when you see overwintering butterflies and bees come out, because a bad spell in the next few weeks could hit them,” Mr Cook said. “It’s a bonus for most of us but for our visitors it’s quite unusual.”