Christmas Box and Sweet Box are the usual names for the ‘sarcococca’ family of plants. The names describe it perfectly and tell you why this is a must have garden plant in December: the tiny flowers smell sweet and strong, and the flowers bloom around Christmas. Simple!

Sarcococca are small or medium sized evergreen shrubs with simple, glossy leaves and small, strongly scented creamy-white flowers in winter or spring. The scent hangs in the winter air, inviting you into the garden. Gorgeous red, purple or black berries follow and add an exotic touch to spring borders which may last into summer and autumn. These lovely plants are easy to grow. They are happy in most soils and aspects, moist and well drained soils. The one thing they don't like is strong or drying winds, so find a sheltered spot among shrubs or near a wall.

Make the most of Christmas Box in your garden

Plant one or two near your front or back door where the heady scent will encourage you to breathe deeply when you go in or out. These plants grow well in pots out of the wind, on paths, patios or balconies, so there really is no reason not to enjoy one (or two!). Add a few to your pots for winter interest and to provide a glossy evergreen backdrop to spring and summer flowers.

Christmas Box

Sarcococca hookeriana var. dignya 'purple stems'.
(By Wouter Hagens (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons).

What's not to like?

It seems to me that members of the Christmas Box family are overlooked, even by keen gardeners. Perhaps they are a gardener's best kept secret? When not in flower they are inconspicuous and, although a lovely backdrop to other plants, if you don’t see (and smell) one in December you will not know their winter glory. The pretty flowers and breathtaking scent make these lovely plants a Christmas treat for you - or a present for friends – and a definite addition to your Christmas shopping list this weekend.

So, which variety and plant within this lovely family should you choose?

All sarcococca are neat, evergreen shrubs with small leaves and small, scented creamy-white flowers, but there are variations on this lovely theme.

Most plants on sale in my local garden centre are ‘sarcococca hookeriana’. These are likely to grow to 0.5 metres high at most, so will suit a place in most gardens and borders. Different forms of this plant include the three beauties below.

  • S. hookeriana var. Digyna which has small, deep green leaves and pinky-cream flowers followed by black berries.
  • S. hookeriana var. Digyna ‘Purple Stem' accurately describes the colour of this lovely plant’s stems! Alternate narrow, pointed leaves run along the purple stems to create a dramatic setting for the small, delicate and musky white and pinkish flowers followed by black berries.
  • S. hookeriana var. Humilis grows into small and neat bushes, looking almost like box, with glossy oval leaves. The small clusters of strongly scented creamy-white flowers have pretty central crimson anthers and are followed by black berries.
Christmas Box

Sarcococca hookeriana humilis. (By Dinkum - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36329816)

And for a larger Christmas Box try one of these!

Sarcococa confusa is a larger and looser shaped shrub than ‘hookeriana’ – growing to 1.5 metres when happy. It is a delight of small green leaves and pretty creamy-white flowers that can only lift the spirit in a shrub border or beside the garden shed!

Sarcococca ruscifolia is a similar size and shape to ‘confusa’ but this one has flowers all up the stems and red berries.

What next?

Add these lovely plants to your Christmas shopping list and give yourself, your garden and your friends a welcome boost for the dark days of winter - this year and for years to come. Believe me – any one of these plants is well worth having in your garden. Enjoy!