January plant of the month - sweet box

Some people think winter is dull. Some people think winter is a time to avoid the garden. Some people don’t know what they’re missing!

Sarcococca confusaThe winter garden is joyful. Ok, the weather might put us all off on certain days, but there are particular plants that make any outdoor walk a fragrant and rewarding trip.

One of the plants we bow down to at this time of year is sweet box, Sarcococca confusa. It has wonderful glossy green leaves all year round, with shiny black berries from summer onwards, some of which linger into January. But the outstanding feature of this relatively inconspicuous shrub is the fragrance that the clusters of tiny, tubular white flowers release. It wafts far and wide from the plants, and at RHS Garden Wisley we often see visitors pause when they’ve had a whiff of it, and seek out the source of the intoxicating scent.


Sarcococca confusa flowersA fragrant welcome

Sarcococca confusa AGM is one of the first plants to greet you when you come through the garden entrance. It, and its close family (there are several species and cultivars of Sarcococca) grow all over the garden in both shady and open areas, but one of the most obvious locations is outside The Glasshouse.

At this time of year, when the Butterflies in The Glasshouse is on, this is a particularly popular area, and the fragrance from the sweet box delights the visitors as they both approach and later leave. It grows here in simple beds alongside just Miscanthus grass.

It’s a relatively easy, unfussy plant, never growing more than 2m (6½ft) tall. Its evergreen leaves make it a great foil for other plants during the year, and its scent steals the show in winter.

See also

Find suppliers of sweet box and other Sarcococca

Buy sweet box direct from RHS Plants

Top 10 shrubs for winter scent

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The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.