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

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