January in Seattle has brought strangely spring-like weather to our gardens, as sometimes happens in the Pacific Northwest. To me the great harbinger of this pattern is the blooming of my Chiomonanthus praecox, or Wintersweet as it is usually called.
Its waxy, translucent, butter-yellow flowers are some of the first of the true winter- season bloomers. They certainly look charming with their confused droop, but their real charm is their fragrance. (When a fragrance app is available for the iPhone I’ll make sure and post a smell.) It’s clean, bright, sugary and brightened with lemon and clove.
I am also quite fond of Wintersweet’s large, glossy, almost tropical leaves, which stay on the plant late in the season here in Seattle. Most years they drop just in time to reveal the tantalizing buds that will pop and the odd, sagging fruits of last year.
Some careful pruning will really help this plant achieve a nice form and it can be shaped to fit a fairly tall, narrow space. Partial sun will be fine and it takes moderate watering once established. It’s entirely cold hardy in the Puget Sound.
These pictures are from the fairly beat-up one in my garden. It has received so little light and minimal care and yet produces wonderful blossoms. I’m going to move it when about 90% of the flowers are spent. This will hopefully catch it before the sap starts to flow.
Now is really the time to start thinking about moving around your trees and shrubs. Once things come into leaf it will be much harder, so go out and take a hard look at bones of your garden. Are there small trees and shrubs that you find are too close to the home, pathways or other principle plantings. Now is a great time to correct without having to resort to inappropriate pruning.