Another Perfect Plant: Wintersweet

The Wintersweet is a seemingly ordinary-looking shrub that might be unimpressive to most people, and could even appear a bit weedy to some. So one might wonder, “Why is this rangy, non-descript plant the Plant of the Week?” Is the suspense killing you?

The fabulous-ness of the Wintersweet is due to its unsuspected fragrance that seeps into your garden in the dead of winter. And what an incredible fragance it is! The delicious, spicy scent comes from the delicate flowers that range from a pale to a buttery yellow flower, accented with rich maroon on the inside. The flowers bloom off-and-on for two to three months in the winter, depending on freezes and thaws. In those cold days of winter, there is nothing like receiving an early breath of spring from taking a deep inhale of the Wintersweet blossoms.

Wintersweet, or Chimonanthus praecox, originally comes from Japan and China, and has been cultivated there for over a thousand years. It has been used for essential oils, cosmetics, perfumes, and flavoring teas. Similar to the way lavender has been used to scent linens and clothes, Wintersweethas been used in the same way in China.

This large shrub grows up to 15′-0″ tall and about the same width. Wintersweet can grow in full sun and take part shade. It prefers well-drained, acidic soils, but can tolerate alkaline soils as well. In hotter climates, the Wintersweet would prefer some afternoon shade. There seem to be no disease or insect issues with this plant.

Because of Wintersweet’s lack of spring and summer interest, we recommend using this plant as a background plant to be enjoyed in the quiet winter months.

Richard Hartlage

Richard Hartlage is the founding principal and CEO of Land Morphology. His award-winning, innovative designs are renowned as emotive, immersive spaces that incorporate sophisticated horticulture, artful detailing, and historical knowledge that heighten the human experience of the natural world. His passion for horticulture, cultivated over fifteen years working public gardens and estates, is applied to each design from the conceptual phase through development of maintenance protocol and beyond.