January Plant of the Month – Sarcococca


(Sweet box or Christmas box)





Also known as the sweet box or Christmas box, these fabulous evergreen shrubs are one of the most underrated!


A member of the Buxaceae family, its most grown for their sweet honey scented flowers in winter, however this unassuming shrub has a lot of other terrific features.






An Evergreen fountain of foliage


They produce broad, glossy dark green leaves with scattered spidery fragrant flowers throughout winter followed by glossy black or red berries throughout the summer, which are highly favoured by flower arrangers as they will last up to two weeks in a vase.


Native to eastern and south eastern Asia and the Himalayas they are naturally found in woodlands, where they thrive in shade. Useful for planting under shade, particularly under trees with extensive roots, in fact, these vigorous and hardy plants will cope in most situations!






Most propagated through suckering and left alone will become dense and bushy so are great for hiding any unsightly parts of the garden, or for screening.

Neat, bushy habit – use for formal borders or as an alternative to box hedging


A great evergreen alternative to box hedging, they work well in a formal border. Unlike box they are resistant to box blight, which is a current problem in the UK, although it’s worth noting they create a softer look when considering your gardens design.


Most sucker freely, but are easily manageable if you are going for a more formal look as they grow slowly. Pull up any new shoots and pot them up or plant elsewhere.


Easy to grow in pots or in the border






They can tolerate pollution, can be grown in pots, and being evergreen create all year round interest so are a great choice where space is limited.


They will survive dry shade, you could also plant in full sun where the ground is moist, although it may seem a shame to give a sunny spot over to a plant that is happier in shade and will cope in less hospitable situations where other plants would fail.


They also cope with neglect! Perfect for a novice (or busy) gardener.







Very easy to grow. They will survive any soils, even chalky. In moist soil they will cope with full sun but will thrive in full or partial shade and can cope with dry shade. As you can see from above they have many attractive qualities, added to that they are very low maintenance, needing little to no regular pruning. If you do need to prune out dead wood do it in mid to late spring.


They really are an underrated gem that deserve a little more notice!

Companion Plants



Sarcococca are evergreen and are often grown as ground cover or for screening. They are easy to grow, and very successful so will put other evergreens to shame, so think about that before you pair it with more delicate foliage plants, Hostas for example!

Sarcococca provide really good coverage so are really helpful for deciduous and ornamental plants that have peaks rather than all year interest, which is perhaps why they tend to be overlooked by some gardeners. Pick taller shrubs which are top heavy, Hydrangeas for example which will create a shady space beneath that a Sarcococca will happily fill.

Fragrant companions


Daphne mezerum and Clematis viticella Huldine




Shade loving companions


Cyclamen and Hellebores




Ornamental shrub companions


Camellias, Euphorbia, Hydrangeas and Japanese Maples







December Plant of the Month – English Holly

English Holly – Ilex aquifolium


Holly bush with berries


When thoughts turn to Christmas it’s hard not to think about Holly – especially as if you happen to be doing any shopping at this time of year you’ll probably be seeing it everywhere!



Anybody growing a holly tree will tell you the joy they’ve had raiding the branches for creating homemade wreaths and garlands, a great activity for keeping kids occupied in the exciting run up to Christmas! Holly sprigs are also marvellous when added to a winter bouquet and can be painted or sprayed silver for a truly dazzling display.

In general our most common holly is the Ilex aquifolium also known as the English Holly, a glossy green prickly leafed shrub with bright red berries to brighten up a winter garden.







Hollies tend to be shapely, architectural plants that will happily hold there own as a stand-alone feature. In the garden evergreen hollies are an excellent choice. The iconic prickly leaves will give all year round pleasure with vivid new growth in spring and summer and in winter the female plants will be laden with berries. Holly bushes are dioecious, meaning they need male and female plants to pollinate, and without pollination you won’t get any berries. In general you only need to have one male plant nearby and it will pollinate multiple females.








Tips for the wildlife friendly gardener.


The female plants produce flowers that will later turn in to berries in winter – great for birds.

The male plants produce flowers that make pollen – great for birds and butterflies! Despite their very subtle scent you will notice lots of honey bees and other pollinating insects hovering around your holly bushes in the spring.

Holly hedges make excellent homes for birds and wildlife, the prickly leaves excellent for winter protection.







Plant out in full sun, or partial shade and they prefer well drained, sandy soil but will cope with most soils as long as there is good drainage. Give them a good mulching. Hollies don’t like to be disturbed and are slow growers, sometimes not really showing any progress for 2-3 years however a mature shrub is well worth the wait!

You shouldn’t need to prune hollies too much as they will form a good shape by themselves however if you do need to do a little light pruning to remove damaged, diseased wood do it in late winter or early spring. Mulch and feed after pruning.