Ask the gardening expert

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We've heard that we should be able to find scented winter-blooming shrubs and trees at our local garden centers, but I've not seen any. Could you give me a few examples of what to ask for? My daughter is sensitive to strong scented products, and probably plants too, so we should keep that in mind as we find a plant we like.

Many landscape plants bloom in winter, most of them highly scented. One instructor told our class that the strong scent is important because there are far fewer pollinators available at that time of the year and they must be drawn from greater distances to pollinate the flowers.

Just a few blooming twigs indoors can scent a room strongly should you wish.

If the strong scent bothers you or family members, plant the shrubs farther out in they yard, away from walkways and doors, so you can see the bloom (most always the flowers are small) but not have the scent up close as people are passing.

• Most nurseries have, or can easily bring in, witch hazel (Hamamelis) trees. Mine are in full bloom now.

• Camellias bloom in the late fall, into winter or early spring. Many are quite sensitive to cold; often the blooms are damaged in cold wind and freezes.

• My favorite in the large Viburnum family of shrubs is V. farreri, a lovely winter bloomer.

• Daphne is a very popular winter bloomer; some bloom in early spring a well.

• I'm fond of the "white forsythia" or Abeliophyllum distichum.

• Finally, our family looks forward to the late-winter bloom of the native shrub Oemleria cerasiformis — oso berry or Indian plum. We always feel that spring is on its way when we see the cute blooms. However, this native shrub is definitely not nicely scented.

The street in front of my house is lined with really nice-looking trees with dark leaves. The blooms in spring are just beautiful. However, there is one thing wrong with them: They produce a large purple fruit that I'm rather nervous about, and I have had to tell the neighbor kids that it may be dangerous for them to eat, because I don't know what they are.

Last fall, I was amazed when my neighbor said she has been gathering them to make jam for the last several years.

How could one find out what they are, and if they are safe for sure?

• The first of several suggestions would be to gather a few fruits, branches and leaves next summer when the fruit is ripe, and take them to the Vancouver Farmers Market, where there are plenty of folks who can examine them and tell you if they are safe. At the market, start at the Master Gardeners booth, as most Master Gardeners certainly know their fruit.

• You can also take the sample to the Heritage Farm/WSU Extension Answer Clinic at 1919 N.E. 78th St. in Hazel Dell. Check the website for hours.

• You can even consult WSU Horticulture Advisor Charles Brun at the answer clinic. If you call him first, at 360-397-6060 Ext. 7713, he can tell you when he'll be in the office.

I feel certain they are an edible fruit. My only question is why the city (or whatever agency is responsible for street trees near your home) would plant fruit-bearing trees on a neighborhood street. I would think they would be a terrible mess if the homeowners didn't clean them up; not everyone would want to use this fruit.

I remember a year or two ago hearing the news that someone killed a huge number of bumblebees by spraying a chemical on linden trees. My kids just bought a home and their landscaper has suggested several lindens as specimen trees. I've read lindens are magnets for aphids. When I asked, the designer said he'll use a type that does not attract aphids. Is there such a tree?

Linden trees, genus Tilia, are often called "lime trees" (not related to the kind of "lime tree" that bears the citrus fruit!) or basswood, and are quite lovely. There used to be a full row of them on the east side of Clark College that I admired for quite a few years. Are they still there? I must check.

In June, a landscaping company sprayed blooming linden trees in a parking lot in Wilsonville, Ore., to kill aphids that had been dripping honeydew on the cars below. Within days, an estimated 50,000 bumblebees lay dead under those trees.

The Oregon Department of Agriculture investigated and found that the pesticide, which was labeled as not for use on trees in bloom, was incorrectly applied. It also noted that the nectar of some Tilia species is naturally toxic to bumblebees, so banned the use of several products that make linden flowers even more poisonous.

The tree-care company and two of its employees were fined; I'm sure they'll read directions more closely after this tragic experience.

In my reading, I see there are several Tilia species that escape aphids; T. oliverii does not suffer from aphid attacks, I am told, and T. euchlore attracts only a few.

When adding any tree or large shrub, it is wise to do some investigating beforehand. There is so much information online, and although some of it is questionable, if you check several sources, you will gain a wider view of the plants you select.


Celeste Lindsay is a WSU-certified master gardener. Send questions to mslindsay8@gmail.com.