Fragrant Sweetbox for the Shade Garden

 Late winter, looking at another long spell of grey and wet (or dare we suggest possibly even white?) weather, we need some inspiration to make it through the days and weeks to spring.

Just after the start of the New Year, Sweet Box shrubs open tiny white flowers, their strong sweet scent filling the air. Glossy evergreen leaves hide most of the flowers, and people not already acquainted with these winter delights look around, puzzled by the fragrance drifting through the almost freezing air without more dramatic visible blooms.

There are several varieties of Sweet Box available:

Tall Sweet Box (Sarcococca ruscifolia) is the earliest to bloom by a couple of weeks; it is an arching upright shrub to 4-5 ft. tall and 3-4 ft. wide, and the flowers are followed by red berries.

The groundcover form, Sarcococca hookeriana var. humilis, reaches 1 to 3 ft. tall and slowly spreads to 3 ft. wide or more, with berries of black.

A new release, Sarcococca hookeriana ‘Fragrant Valley’, is an improved form of the lower type, with a shorter and more consistent habit (18 inches tall by 3 feet wide), a faster growth rate, and slightly smaller and denser leaves making for a nice full look.

The flowering period is usually 4 to 5 weeks. Berries for all types are not usually listed as poisonous, but are not recommended for consumption; in fact, even most birds ignore them and they persist after flowering long into the spring. All forms of Sweet Box need partial or full shade and pretty good drainage – they are one of the better landscaping options deep shade.