Oh so sweet: the sweet box fragrance in winter

Several clusters of white flowers, which are actually the stamens, the petals are the tiny pink bits at the base of the stamens. The flowers sit amongst the greenish-red long slender leaves.
The flowers of Sarcococca hookeriana var. digyna ‘Purple Stem’.

One of the great delights of winter and early spring, come from a rather small, almost insignificant, white flower, of sweet box. You don’t really notice the flowers. It’s the fragrance you’ll notice. You’ll be walking down the street and suddenly a stunning sweet fragrance hits you and you wonder where it comes from. Eventually you notice a box-type of shrub, with small white flowers, and realise it is from THIS, that the fragrance derives.

A young shrub in a terracotta pot, against a light green fence. The shrub has green-red slender pointed leaves and the older stems look red-orange, but the young ones are purple. It has small clusters of white flowers throughout the shrub.
Sarcococca hookeriana var. digyna ‘Purple Stem’, placed in a sunny spot in the back garden.

Sarcococca, known as the sweet box, for it’s similarity to the shrub common box, Buxus sempervirens, only with fragrance. And without having the problem of being hit by box blight. Most of the photos here are of the cultivar Sarcococca hookeriana var. digyna ‘Purple Stem’. As you can see, it has a purple stem, though in bright sunlight it gives off a purplish-red tone.

Focus on a single stem of the shrub. The stem is a dark purple, though looks purple-reddish white the bright sunlight on it. There is one cluster of small white flowers coming off from the stem, with some smaller clusters developing but only the pinkish outer layer of the flower currently shows. The leaves are long and slender and are a green-red colour.
The branches of ‘Purple gem’ tends to look purple-red when the sun is directly on it.

The flowers, which are ongoing for a couple of months, are really quite small, and only noticeable for the white stamens that stand out well proud of the tiny petals.

Focus on a single cluster of flowers on a dark purple stem. This was taken on a cloudy day so the stems look more purple. This photo clearly shows the pinkish-red flower petals, but it's the white stamens that stick well out of them that constitutes the 'flower'.
On a cloudy day, you can see the darker purple of the branches. This photo really shows how far the stamens stick out above the tiny pinkish petals.

But most of all, it’s the sweet fragrance. This is the recently planted Sarcococca confusa hedge planted in the front garden. 19 young shrubs. In a couple of years, the fragrance in winter will be incredible. Not only will I get to enjoy it, but anyone walking by will too.

A front garden that was just lawn but now how a border around the edge of it with 19 young Sarcococca plants spaced 1m apart. In the middle is a round bed that has a leafless tree, Acer griseum, and the young shoots of bulbs coming out of the soil
The young Sarcococa confusa hedge, planted November 2022.

I went for S. confusa for the hedge instead of ‘purple gem’, as I personally think it bushes out better for creating a hedge. ‘Purple gem’ can get a little woody. But it’s gorgeous shrub and this one sits in a sunny spot in the back garden.

Bright sunlight focusing on one cluster of the flowers. The flowers are really just white stamens sticking out, the pink petal at their base are not very noticeable.
Sarcococca hookeriana var. digyna ‘Purple Stem’.

For me, Sarcococca is an essential shrub to be added to a garden. It doesn’t grow too fast or too big (S. confusa is c. 1m high x 2m wide), can grow in pots, and the maintenance is minimal. If you plant one shrub in the garden in the UK, Sarcococca should be it. It really makes a statement.

It’s oh so sweet.

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