Floral fragrance is likely the primary asset of sweet box, Sarcococca ruscifolia. However, the splendidly glossy and evergreen foliage is as appealing as that of any of the various boxwoods. It is darker and richer green, with orderly arrangement on nimble and arching stems. Individual leaves are small but larger than boxwood leaves, and with pointier tips.
Sweet box blooms during winter, with deliciously fragrant but tiny pale white flowers that are not much to see. They are unlikely to get credit for their impressive fragrance without close investigation for its source. Vigorous plants may produce a few rich maroon berries that contrast delightfully with the rich green foliage. Cut stems work well with cut flowers.
Because it is naturally an understory species, sweet box not only tolerates partial shade, but actually prefers it. Harsh exposure fades its foliage. The dense foliage on wiry stems adapts to low hedging. It is better with alternating cane pruning to remove old stems and promote fresh basal growth. Overgrown specimens respond quite favorably to coppicing. They grow to three feet high.
2 thoughts on “Sweet Box”
Sweet box is in bloom here too and, though it is not spectacular, the fragrance is a great asset in the garden now. I have several different kinds around the garden but the main planting is in a circle under some hazels. They were all grown from seedlings under an ancient S. confusa that was 1.5m high and wide. They are on a slight slope and those at the base, where it is wetter, are struggling. As the hazels have grown and provided some shade they are looking more happy and are deeper green. I have seen it grown as a neat hedge, clipped in late summer, about 40cm high. Flowering is reduced but it is an interesting choice for dry shade.
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Sarcococca ruscifolia has worked well as foundation planting for one of the lodges and one of the office buildings here because of its tolerance to the shade of the tall building, and the dry conditions below the eaves of the lodge. I was not so aware of its tolerance for dry conditions. Is Sarcococca as popular as Sarcococca ruscifolia? I have never seen it here.