January is a barren month, cold wet skies, low grey cloud sucking the colour out of everything before your very eyes. This year has been slightly brighter with the recently mild weather encouraging many plants to burst forth with leaf and bud. Plenty of snow drops (Galanthus) and pale yellow primroses (Primula vulgaris) dotted amongst the vivid purple Crocus BUT one of my favourite at this time of year are the scented plants. The ones that knock you sideways with their rich deep fragrance. Sarcoccoca – Winter box; Daphne bhola; Lonicera fragrantissima – Winter honeysuckle and of course Chimonathus praecox – Winter sweet.Tiny insignificant flowers belt out their wares not for us but for their pollinators (Beetles) who, up early in the season, are a bit drowsy and lethargic.

Originally cultivated in Asia (China)  gardeners grow it for it’s highly scented, waxy,  pale yellow flowers, born on bare stems between December and March. The leaves appearing after the flowers. Apparently many parts of the plant are rich in essential oils and some used for culinary and medicinal purposes but for me it’s a single branch of Chimonathus lightly scenting the house for days, the cooler the house the longer it lasts. Delicious.

Kew says: “grows well in a sheltered position, particularly against a warm wall in full sun or in a sunny place on the edge of woodland in warm climates, in moist, but well-drained soil. It can be grown in most soils, but does best on chalky ones. It usually develops into a lax, untidy shrub. It is quite slow to flower (plants grown from seed can take 12–14 years to produce flowers), and should be pruned only very lightly, immediately after flowering. It is best grown from seed.  Branches close to the ground can also be layered in late summer, although root formation may take up to two years.

Winter Sweet (Chimonanthus praecox) at Cambridge Botanic Gardens

Winter Sweet (Chimonanthus praecox) at Cambridge Botanic Gardens


A circular pond in a round walled transition space at Hestercombe Gardens. Delightfully planted with Chimonanthus to trap the sweet heady scent in the Round

  • Phoenicia

    January is rather grim – cold and rainy season (well here in the UK it is!). Nothing like a beautiful flower display to brighten up your home.

    I too like scented flowers. Flowers should not only look pretty but have a nice scent to them, especially if kept in the home.

  • Rose M Griffith

    Being in the USA, I’ve only heard of a couple of these plants, but I’ll look up the others. I always enjoy the bees buzzing around, collecting their goodies. Makes the garden seem more alive!

  • Despite a name that sounds like a prehistoric reptile, Winter Sweet looks like a breath of spring.

  • Pretty flowers. Sounds like a great use for a natural air freshener.

  • William Rusho

    Thanks for sharing this.
    I miss my garden so much. Having an apartment, and visiting my house only on the weekends have limited my gardening. but I do like reading about it and about plants
    Thanks for sharing.

  • I’ve noticed this variety of flower before, but never knew it was called Winter Sweet.

    • The trouble with common plant names is their often not so common. Sorbus aucuparia for example is also called, Rowan, Mountain Ash, White beam, Service Tree, Quickbeam and on it goes.
      In the UK we have two other plants also commonly called Winter Sweet (Lonicera fragrantissima and Sarcoccoca confusa),confusing!

  • I’m not familiar with this flower. I would like to know its scent. I hope they don’t ruin the plant and destroy its scent in growing it quantity like they did the rose, which no longer has an scent. Such a pity.

    • Ah the rose. Ruined by floristry demands everywhere. That said garden grown roses mostly retain their delicious scents. I won’t specify one in a plan unless it has good scent. David Austin (https://www.davidaustinroses.com/american/SlipGate.asp) has built his reputation on capturing the alluring smell of the rose along with good disease resistance and repeat flowering in every colour imaginable. Of course he’s not the only great breeder growing for scent but he is a global Rosarian.
      I think Chimonanthus is unlikely to be affected as honestly, scent is really it’s only wonder!

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