THE MODERN MINT BLOG
Another winter favourite, Sarcococca is a lovely plant with a lovely name to say. Sar-co-co-cca. Sarcococca. Impress your non-gardening friends by pulling this one out…. and then confusing them by calling it Christmas or Sweet box, its common name.
It makes it to Plant of the Week by virtue of its strong perfume, which can make your nose twitch with its bewitching charm. But there are many other qualities to this evergreen shrub.
It grows well in lime or acid soil.
It tolerates shade.
It is a slow grower, so doesn’t need lots of pruning.
It doesn’t suffer from pests and diseases (it can replace Buxus as an edging plant in gardens effected by blight. Sarcococca hookeriana var. humilis is the one to try for this.)
It can be used in a cottage garden or a more formal design.
It is good for cutting and taking into the house, where it will perfume a room.
It has berries for the birds.
Sounds too good to be true. So what, then, are its problems?
The flowers are…modest. Very modest. In fact, you probably won’t even notice it flowering, and will only be aware that its moment in the garden has come when the fragrance of the flower hits you from several paces away, making you search for the source of this wonderful scent. Let us not just judge by the flower power of a plant though. We can be more sagacious than that. Which brings us on to the next point…
… you might think the leaf dull (you might, even though it shines like glossy paper, reflecting all possible light and warmth there is to be found in a shady, neglected spot. A far better leaf to have working for you in your garden than the light thieving mass of a rhododendron.)
We willingly fight to advertise this plants qualities, don’t we?
What can you plant with it? Try a clump-forming fern, some strands of vinca, hydrangeas, dicentra perhaps, with a clematis growing up a wall behind it. It is a shrub that will provide valuable support to others, rather than being the star performer.
Or place around it some bulbs, like snowdrops, a variegated ivy and the flower and foliage of hellebores (as the stat attraction) and you have a simple yet restorative winter scene. Made all the more rewarding by the bounty of the Sarcococca’s scent.
For more great winter-flowering shrubs, ge tthis book!
Transforming Topiary – a video made for the European Boxwood And Topiary Society by Charlotte Molesworth and I, in her garden. We take a dog topiary and work out how to update it, turning it into a bird. Worth a watch I think, and hopefully useful to you! You can see more of my clipping on the topiary page. Or read my Spring 2021 Topiary Provocation here.
Phillyrea is one of my favourite plants for topiary. I have been using it for quite a few years as a specimen shrub, mostly due to the fact it clips well and has a tough habit – all good characteristics for a topiary plant. It also has a reputation for being an excellent nectar source for bees… Read more about Phillyrea here. Mentioning this to Malcolm Thicke, a market garden historian and writer, he sent me a some photos of topiary and phillyrea mentioned by John Worlidge in Systema Horticulturae from 1682…. incredible! He also mentioned to me that in …
Kites and Strings is a podcast about creativity, hosted by US-based Stephen Ploum and Catherine Chinnock. Back in March they asked me to come onto their podcast and talk about topiary, my past writing plays, the stand-up I did and how creativity can fit into your life. The Kites and Strings podcast was great fun and Stephen and Catherine are fantastic hosts. Listening back today I am surprised by some of the ideas I talked about (somehow I even started to describe a future where I run a ‘School of Creativity’ by the sea…. where did that come from?!) but it …