Winter Sweet – Chimonanthus

This is the winter sweet, a name which perfectly describes its chief attraction, that of scenting the air in winter for many yards around. There is only one species, Chimonanthus praecox (also sometimes called C. fragrans) and its pale yellow, purple-centred flowers are not in the least spectacular, but they make up in perfume what they lack in colour. It is deciduous, makes a large, rather open-branched bush which is best left unpruned, though this may not be possible if it is trained against a sunny wall, as it often is. Then forward-growing stems that cannot readily be trained in can be cut out or be shortened in late winter. The winter sweet thrives in most well-drained soils, including chalk.

Winter sweet is a shrub which is not planted as often as it deserves to be. It has many merits. It bears its exotic looking, fragrant flowers right through the winter, from November onward, and will provide cut flowers for the house. Its only fault is that it takes some years to come into full flowering. C. praecox is deciduous and hardy, although it does best on a wall, where it can reach 3m (10ft). The species flowers are yellow, with purple inner petals. C. praecox ‘Grandiflora’ has larger flowers, but with less scent, and C. praecox ‘Luteus’ is pure yellow.

Winter Sweet - Chimonanthus

General care: Chimonanthus like a south or west wall, but will tolerate any soil conditions, including chalk, which they seem to prefer. Plant in the spring. Once they are established and flowering, prune them every spring by removing most of the shoots that have just flowered, leaving only a few buds on each.

Propagation: Can be raised from seed, but you may have to wait 10 years from seed sowing before you get flowers. Layering in September is the easiest way of propagating, but wait two years before severing the shoot from the parent plant.

Pests and diseases: Generally trouble-free.

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