March plant of the month

It is not just the flowers of wintersweet that makes us want to grow this plant. You need to take a deep breath too

Chimonanthus praecox goes by the common name of wintersweet. I’m sure you can guess why - the flowers are exceptionally fragrant. Our favourite is the yellow cultivar Chimonanthus praecox 'Luteus' AGM. The scent is like jonquil and violets, and as the other winter-scented flowers fade, this shrub is poised to take the limelight. It’s so worth it!

When mature it can reach a height and spread of about 3m (10ft).They look excellent as specimen plants, or in a shrub border, and can also be trained effectively against walls.

At RHS Garden Wisley, plants can be found in Seven Acres and the Walled Garden. On the warm, sunny, south-facing brick wall the flowering is more intense.

Where and how to grow

They are relatively easy to look after. In fact, they flower profusely when established and left unpruned because the flowers are produced on the leaf axils of wood three to four years old.

If any pruning is necessary, it is best done immediately after flowering, especially if wall-trained. Over the years wintersweet can become quite leggy and ragged, in which case you can prune to within 15-30cm (6-12in) of the ground in late winter to rejuvenate it… although you’ll have to wait a few years for it to flower again.

One other useful fact about this plant is that it is notably resistant to honey fungus.

If you are interested in trying this shrub at home plant it in well-drained, preferably loamy soil in a sheltered, sunny position. It seems most at home on chalky soils, although it does pretty well at Wisley on our acidic, sandy soil.

Apparently the flowers are used in potpourri and to make perfumes, and have some limited edible uses. The petals are used to flavour and scent tea, and if boiled and washed they can be eaten with oil and salt*. It all sounds fantastic but as a garden-lover, it is for the pleasure of seeing the waxy flowers come out and fill the air with beautiful scent that makes this a must-have shrub.

*This is not a guarantee of edibility. Individuals consuming the flowers listed here do so entirely at their own risk. In case of doubt please consult your doctor.

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