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Credit: Peter Symcox

When winter gloom has us down, the bright yellow bloom of winter jasmine is sure cheer us up

In the depths of winter, when it seems that one’s spirits are at an all-time low and, as John Keats once said, “the sedge has withered by the lake and no birds sing,” it is comforting to know that there is a plant destined to bloom with bright-yellow star-like flowers to cheer us up and remind us that, no matter the season, there is always something beautiful in the garden. The plant is winter jasmine, or Jasminum nudiflorum, to give it its correct name. It is a climber, as are so many of the other jasmines in the family, and needs definite support for it has no tendrils with which to attach itself to fortuitously placed twigs and branches of nearby shrubs or trees and, as the name suggests, it flowers on bare stalks before the leaves appear. It can be trained to flow downwards over a wall or rockery bed, but it really doesn’t like to do so; much better to coax it up towards the sky above. A good specimen will reach three metres in height, and, luxuriantly, will easily cover a network of cunningly placed supporting trellises – perfect for the entrance to a doorway, as I once saw it outside a friend’s house. It does not have a fragrance, but that is not a drawback, for it is a cheerful thing to have in your garden, and well worth the trouble of giving it a supportive home. The genus Jasminum has some 450 species, mainly from the tropics of the Old World, but a few are temperate. Many come from China – as does J. nudiflorum – or Iran. It was the Chinese J. officinale that was first introduced into Britain in 1548, carried there by merchants as they followed the ancient trading routes to northern Europe. Not surprisingly, it is in the same family as the well-known flowering shrub forsythia. Be that as it may, it is from the fragrant flowers of J. polyanthum and J. grandiflorum that perfume is extracted; the flowers are pressed into shallow trays of wax, replaced daily. When the wax is thoroughly impregnated with oil the wax is dissolved and the essence distilled. This is known as enfleurage. And the perfumed tea with which most of us are familiar comes from the flowers of J. lanceolarium, also known as J. paniculatum. Although there may be no fragrance attached to J. nudiflorum, it nevertheless gives the heart a lift during those cold and rainy months of winter when we need it most.