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Easy shrubs for exquisite winter fragrance

1st January 2017 IN Advice
Easy shrubs for exquisite winter fragrance

The sweet honey-like fragrance of this lovely evergreen shrub announces its presence well before you see it.  Commonly known as Christmas or sweet box, the delicate creamy-white flowers of sarcococca appear from December to March.  Their scent never fails to lift the spirits even on the dullest of mid-winter days.


Here at the Beth Chatto Gardens, sarcococca grow happily on the edge of the woodland where they never fail to draw the attention of visitors.


Sarcococa are thoroughly reliable and undemanding shrubs, making them perfect for a shady border or woodland garden.  Fully-hardy, easy to grow and tolerant of a wide range of soil conditions, they make useful shrubs for dry shade under trees.  Sweet box even cope with urban pollution.


The genus name Sarcococca comes from the Greek for fleshy berries.  These glossy spherical fruits appear after the flowers in late-summer and autumn extending their season of interest in the garden.  Berries are typically red, purple or blue-black in colour.


Sarcococca are highly versatile shrubs and are valued for their attractive evergreen foliage, their scent and their long season of interest. They're perfect for growing in beds and borders - some smaller species are also effective planted as a fragrant low-growing hedge. Alternatively - grow sweet box in a pot; that way they can be easily moved to where they can be best enjoyed when in intoxicating flower.


There is a sarcococca to suit every size of garden:

Easy shrubs for exquisite winter fragrance

Sarcococca confusa is a dense-growing evergreen shrub with lustrous dark-green leaves.  The largest of the sweet boxes – ultimately reaching 2m in height and spread - it is beautifully scented and black berries follow the clusters of creamy-white flowers in late-summer.

Easy shrubs for exquisite winter fragrance

Sarcococca hookeriana var. digyna

A very desirable form of sweet box is Sarcococca hookeriana var. digyna.  It has elegant narrow, pointed leaves and clusters of creamy-white flowers.  Smaller and hardier than straight S. hookeriana black berries follow the highly-scented flowers.

Also highly scented is the variety Sarcococca hookeriana var. digyna ‘Purple Stem’ with its reddish-purple young shoots, pink-tinged flowers and the same graceful narrow pointed leaves and blue-black berries.  A choice form that is very popular on the Nursery.

Sarcococca hookeriana var. humilis

If you are looking for an alternative to box – as an edging or low hedging plant – then consider Sarcococca hookeriana var. humilis – or dwarf sweet box.  The smallest of the sarcococca reaching only 60cm in height it also makes an excellent ground cover plant. It has small clusters of very fragrant pink-flushed white flowers in early winter followed by black berries.

Native to the woodlands of south-east Asia and the Himalayas these rewarding and easy-to-grow winter-flowering shrubs deserve a place in every garden.


Visit our Nursery now to smell them at their most glorious!


Rosemary Richards

January 2017


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