I have often written about the Best Beloved in The Oxford Times, but recently I have given him an outing or two in the pages of the Daily Telegraph too. He has taken it quite well really.

When Christmas cards started arriving for Val and the Best Beloved, it wasn’t greeted with much enthusiasm, though. But Christmas is over and the days are getting longer. The gardener (suffering from a surfeit of chocolates in my case) is forced into action once again and the gardening trousers are a challenge. The tall one of the partnership never seems to gain an ounce, dammit.

I have several winter flowers to admire now that the year has turned. Wintersweet (Chimonanthus praecox) is full of bud despite the dry summer and grey August. I planted it four years ago, more in hope than expectation. and it’s thriving probably due to being on limestone.

Introduced from China in 1776, it’s deliciously scented and it flowers on bare wood like most winter flowering plants. The large specimen at Wisley, close to the original house, fragrances the air in a sheltered corner. Here at breezy Spring Cottage I normally pick some twigs for the kitchen as there are few (if any) balmy January days to enjoy fragrance here.

My nodding starry flowers have greenish-yellow petals set round a darker middle. Apparently, I should have bought ‘Grandiflorus’ a richer yellow form guaranteed to flower early in its life. ‘Luteus’ is a pallid clear-yellow that is supposed to flower later.

The downside of this large, quite ungainly shrub is its foliage. In summer the pointed green leaves always get thrip damage and look untidy. I forgive it, for the translucent winter flowers are wonderful. The mild November hasn’t helped: it’s clinging to lots of ragged leaf.

If you do buy one, use a reputable nursery as seed-raised plants take 12 years to flower. A grafted plant should flower within four.

My witch hazels also stand poised, with specks of colour just breaking from their first-like buds. My star performer is the freesia scented, butterscotch-brown Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Aurora’.

It’s one of seven in the woodland patch and they do well here because we have deep soil. It’s a myth that witch hazels need acid soil: they may prefer slightly acid but they will grow on neutral too. The situation they will struggle with is chalk, because the soil is too shallow.

‘Aurora’ is the best of my seven because I pushed out the boat and spent a small fortune on a four to five-feet high specimen. Choose one in January when you can see the spidery flowers which come in citrus-marmalade shades of red, yellow and orange.

Be warned: fragrance varies from freesia and lily to toilet cleaner. Sniff before you buy.

Ashwood Nurseries, in Kingswinford, West Midlands, are holding a Wonder of Witch Hazels day on Tuesday, January 24. Chris Lane will lecture and, weather permitting, John Massey’s private garden will open. Tea or coffee and cake are included, but you must book (telephone 01384 401996).