Also known as sweet box, Sarcococca confusa largely goes unnoticed until the inconspicuous, creamy-white flowers fill the air with a glorious vanilla scent. Flowers are followed by spherical glossy black berries which persist until the following winter.
Although it may prefer a moist but well drained soil, Christmas box will also be happy in the dry shade under trees or below walls; it is tolerant of atmospheric pollution and neglect; it makes good ground cover on slopes and it will also grow well in a container. For those that have a problem with rabbits in the garden, it is also on our list of rabbit-resistant plants.
At RHS Garden Rosemoor, we plant Christmas box next to paths, steps and entrances to garden areas so that our visitors can fully experience the delicious scent. Our oldest specimen, next to Rosemoor House, has been used to propagate many of the plants seen around the garden.
As you would expect, Christmas box is found in the Winter Garden where it is partnered with other evergreens such as Epimedium × versicolor 'Neosulphureum' and Mahonia × media 'Buckland' AGM. In the Foliage Garden, it grows in the shade of Maytenus boaria, flanking a path leading onto the lawn, along with Sarcococca orientalis; Prostanthera cuneata AGM provides a contrast in foliage.
Ferns are perfect companions; in the Rock Gully you are more likely to detect the waves of scent than to see the actual plant above you. Here, Adiantum venustum AGM, Dryopteris affinis 'Cristata' AGM and Dryopteris erythrosora AGM clothe the slope beneath the Christmas box.
There are many other plant associations you can try in your own garden, including: hellebores, bergenias, camellias, daphnes, hollies, Viburnum × bodnantense cultivars and Jasminum nudiflorum AGM.
This wonderful plant will not let you down and it is available from the Rosemoor Plant Centre; try and make a space beneath a window or next to a path or steps and you won’t be disappointed.
Find more plants suitable for dry shade.