Friday, 15 January 2016

Shrubs for all Seasons

There are many mysteries in life, like where have all the trowels, tupperware lids, single socks and left-handed gardening gloves gone? Are they being eaten in some kind of trowel/lid/clothing meal deal? And what happened to January? I don’t think anyone ate the first half of the month, although it would go a long way towards explaining my failure to post in 2016. Up there with “the dog ate my homework”, is “my sister ate the first half of January”. Not that I am suggesting that my sister, who is considerably smaller than me, could manage to eat half a month, but she is a competitive character so the merest suggestion that she couldn’t devour half a month would surely render that fortnight well and truly eaten.
I was going to share my odd sock pile with you, but
thought you might prefer a snowdrop in the rain
Fortunately plants get on with doing their thing irrespective of sisters eating months and my failure to post. I only have to open the door to know that one of the most useful shrubs in the garden is doing its thing at the moment, because the scent is delicious. Good old Sarcococca confusa, or sweet box as it is often known. Blooming from December to March, the flowers might be shy and hidden away in the leaf axils, but this shrub packs a punch in the olfactory department. You don't have to be a half awake bee to follow that fragrance and find these insignificant little beauties on a warm winter day.
It is evergreen, so I use it in the shadier areas of the courtyard where I want to see year round colour. Even better, it is one of the least fussy shrubs I have ever grown. I neglected one in a shady corner of a woodland in my last garden for almost a decade and it showed absolutely no signs of stress. The natural cycle of the woodland should have kept it well-nourished, but even without nature’s help, this is a plant which will put up with a surprising amount of neglect. 
Unlike the rest of the Sarcococca family, Sarcococca confusa doesn’t sucker. It will cope with pollution and tolerates dry shade wonderfully well, so it is one to consider for those tricky shady bits down the side of the house or shed. It can grow to 2m by 2m, but it does so very slowly and it isn't averse to being trimmed back. In fact, I intend to clip the groups of Sarcococca confusa in the courtyard in a similar way to Buxus sempervirens once they have reached a decent size, which may take a while, given their slow growing tendencies. If you want to clip Sarcococca confusa, do so in spring and give it a compost mulch - just because a plant will cope with neglect, doesn’t mean that we shouldn't give it a little help (this is my new year mantra and my garden is celebrating heartily).
Sarcococca and Buxus
I love plants which hold flowers and fruit at the same time. Arbutus unedo is top notch for this and so is Sarcococca. Last year's berries persist and add interest during winter, when we really notice the plant. In other seasons, the shrub makes a quiet, evergreen and rather elegant addition to the garden while it gets on with the important business of suppressing weeds, forming structure and creating a backdrop for more showy planting.  
Perfect for pots outside a shady front door, under trees, clipping into hedges, in an urban or rural setting, Sarcococca confusa makes a valuable addition to modern, slick borders as well as more traditional or natural planting. It will even cope with sun, so long as the soil is kept moist. Just because a plant is quiet and puts up with neglect, doesn’t mean that it isn’t treasured. I might forget about Sarcococca in the middle of June when brasher, showier flowers strut their stuff, but for the next three months I will be enjoying great nostril-loads of Sarcococca's beautiful fragrance and celebrating its quiet beauty every day. 

Wishing you a happy, healthy new year.

I am joining with http://www.maydreamsgardens.com/ for Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day. Why not pop over there and see what else is blooming in gardens around the planet?

62 comments:

  1. And sacoccoca has fabulous foliage too :) Happy New Year Sarah!

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    1. Thank you! The foliage is lovely and it makes a wonderful break in fussier planting.

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  2. I have a sweet box cutting which indeed is tough. It's in a tiny pot, not much bigger than an egg cup, and rolled beneath a car seat for 2 weeks, but is apparently unaffected. However I'm thinking I'dl ike to take it out of its tiny pot and put it into something larger. I'm glad I read your post. I didn't realise it dislikes sun, though (although my cutting has put up with it for a year!)

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    1. Proof - were it needed - of how obliging Sarcococca can be! They will put up with sun, but why would we choose to grow them in sun when they are happy in those tricky, dry, miserable tree root-ridden corners of the garden? I have never heard of one growing under a car seat before. That is impressive!

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  3. Great to have a winter blooming shrub!
    Interesting info on Sweet Box

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    1. I am particularly fond of winter-flowering shrubs.

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  4. Aren't snowdrops wonderful? I do love your shrubs - the foliage and berries say "winter," something we really haven't had here yet.

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    1. They are! I adore them. Our winter has only just arrived - it's a lovely change, although I will probably be thinking differently by next Tuesday!

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  5. I wonder where I could plant one? I too have odd sock syndrome. In an attempt to cure this despicable disease I bought some of those net washing bags which has helped a bit but not cured the problem completely.

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    1. I love the notion that someone has an invention to try to cure odd sock syndrome! If I were you, I would look for the most miserable shady spot in your garden and plant one there! I am fortunate that the most miserable shady spot in our garden happens to be by the door.

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  6. Happy new year Sarah. Like the new layout/pop up for the post. A very nice shrub and one to look out for at the next garden centre visit. I have a favourite winter shrub, which I don't have in this garden but did have in my wonderful North Yorkshire garden (I must put some photos of the snow and this shrub on my blog somewhere). It's called Stachyurus praecox and the flowers are so pretty and attract bees-really worth getting if you don't have it already.

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    1. Thank you! I am pleased you like the new look - I was a little apprehensive about changing things about so much. Stachyurus is beautiful. Unfortunately our soil is alkaline, but anyone reading this with acid soil should grasp the opportunity to grow Stachyurus praecox, if only to make me jealous.

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  7. We have a Sarcococca growing by the south facing front door, the scent is wonderful. I bought a new one last year,Sarcococca 'Winter Gem' it has red stems and white flowers with a red base.

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    1. There you go - Sarcococca putting up with sun! It really is the most accommodating plant. 'Winter Gem' is a beauty - and has bigger leaves.

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  8. I have it planted by the kitchen door. Even I can smell it... And that is saying something!
    Happy New Year.

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    1. Thank you! By the kitchen door is a perfect place. Sarcococca is masking the worst of my cooking smells (the toaster keeps burning my toast - nothing to do with me getting sidetracked).

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  9. I especially enjoyed the gentle humor of your writing in this post. Happy New Year, even if half of January has already been gobbled up.

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  10. A lovely selection, I've always wanted a Sarcococca xx

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  11. Really enjoyed your post...Glad you've managed to wrestle the rest of the month away from your sister. When will they learn to share??? Sarcoccoca is indeed a lovely, beautifully scented addition to our gardens, and, as you say, although a quiet presence, not to be valued the less for it.

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    1. It's not easy - she's a feisty woman! I am actually thinking of extending the number of Sarcococca in the garden. To sow seed or wait for cuttings.... that is the question.

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  12. I particularly noticed "perfect for pots" because we cannot grow them in our climate. However if they take well to being grown in a pot It might be worth a try.
    There ought to be a central place where you can leave/pick up tupperware lids and single socks.

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    1. Are you thinking of some kind of sock/tupperware dating agency? Matchsock.com?

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  13. Hello Sarah, we have several Sarcococca plants in the garden, they were all grown from seed/berries from an original that we left behind in our old garden. They are very slow growing plants so it will be several years before they are large enough to start flowing and perfuming the air in winter. I can't wait though, it really is a stunning plant in winter!

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    1. You have answered my question above. I might give the seeds a try. Thank you!

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  14. I planted Sarcococca in my woodland garden just last year. It has done well. I need to get down there and check out its fragrance! Quiet plants that put up with neglect serve as the backbone of my garden. Definitely treasures!

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    1. An excellent choice of backbone! And they keep the weeding down!

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  15. And with the month half gone we are closer to spring....snow on the ground here.

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    1. What a happy thought of spring! Stay safe in the snow.

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  16. Note to self - get one, or two, or even three, planted forthwith !! Why is my garden devoid of this divine shrub ?? Thank you Sarah, for pointing out the error of my ways...

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  17. I need to meet your sister if she can eat the month away - love your humor. Here it it is so cold, I could use that help! But, there is beauty too. I just posted a two part series on ice sculptures here on the shores. Very nice natural winter beauty. JC

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    1. I will take a look. Stay warm! Winter won't last forever... I hope.

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  18. I'm a big sarcy ****er fan too, though mine hasn't started to scent the air yet. Looking forward to that moment, always takes me by surprise when I open the kitchen door to be met by a waft of...how would you describe it? Vanilla? Caramel? Thanks for a lovely post.

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    1. I would say it's more like vanilla. Now you mention caramel, I am overcome with the urge to eat a jar of Dulce de Leche. This is the kind of thing which happens in healthy January.

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  19. Hi Sarah, first thank you for visiting my blog and leaving a comment!
    Sarcococca confusa sounds like a perfect shrub. I love the fact that it is fragrant in the winter time. Interestingly I don't recognize the name or recall seeing it in person. I guess I have to do some research here and learn more about it. I wonder if it would grow in Southern California?
    Warm regards,
    Christina

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    1. My pleasure Christina. I have done a little scouting around - it seems that people are growing it in Southern California.

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  20. I absolutely love Sarcococca and I had several confusa and S. hookeriana var. digyna in my previous garden. Most of them were 10-12 years old so not the size you dig up, but the smaller ones were possible to lift. I got 2 large pots with S. hookeriana var. digyna and 4 small pots with S. confuse seedlings with me over here to my new garden. I will have them in pots and in the ground here too, nature’s best perfume – only beaten by the lilies in the summer!

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    1. A fellow Sarcococca fan! It's lovely that you left some for the next residents, but I'm so pleased that you got to bring some with you.

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  21. I have always sort of thought that I should really get a sarcococca one day, but I didn't realise they could grow in dry shade! Woohoo! I really MUST get one now.

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  22. Another shrub I wish I had room for. I think I'd need acres to plant everything I'd like to. I can't believe how quickly the month is going, 2016 is going to disappear quicker than 2015 did at this rate and that would take some beating.

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    1. Thank goodness it grows in a pot! No need for acres. I think this year will fly by. January usually drags its heels, but not in 2016. I have just noticed it's a leap year, although I could do with an extra couple of weeks, not a day. And if those weeks could be towards the end of May, that would be perfect.

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  23. I'm glad none of these lovely profiled plants have disappeared, along with the socks, trowels and others assorted things. I love that simple snowdrop in the first shot--so nice.

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    1. You can't beat a snowdrop. They are such photogenic flowers too.

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  24. I may have all your left-handed gloves.....could we arrange a deal?....some of your rights for some of my lefts?
    I will make note of this shrub, as I am always looking for scent for the border.

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    1. So you're the culprit!

      The scent of Sarcococca is wonderful. I have just had the pleasure of weeding around the Sarcococca plants in the borders - it was heaven!

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  25. I just love a no-fuss plant that quietly does it thing! I don't think I've ever smelled one, but sounds wonderful! I, too, am wondering what happened to this month. So far 2016 is just flying by! (Not that I'm really complaining during wintertime here!)

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    1. The sooner winter is over, the sooner we can enjoy long days in the garden. A fast-disappearing January has to be a wonderful thing.

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  26. I have sweetbox, too, but it's buried in snow so it will be a while before I can enjoy its fragrance. But it is a more reliable harbinger of spring for me than snowdrops since they bloom so early. I'm missing quite a few socks. It's a great mystery of the universe where they all disappear to.

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    1. The scent will surely return once the snow melts... you never know, the socks might be under all that snow too. Stay safe in all that snow.

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  27. You must have been in my head as I have been planning and researching shrub varieties to add this year to give me more winter interest! Love that sarcococca….such a beauty! Thanks so much for popping by as well! I have been I bit out of the loop and hope to get back to regular posting! Wishing you a glorious day!! Nicole xo

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    1. I'm so pleased you will be blogging again. I missed your posts!

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  28. Sounds wonderful! Too bad it's not hardy where I live.

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    1. That is such a shame. Poor you. It's hardy to -10/-15, which makes it fine for the UK.

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  29. We need to get together Sarah - I have a glut of tupperware lids without the boxes. The tupperware fairy just loves to play games.
    I have a young S. confusa and does well here in my garden too. It receives a bit of morning sun and little else. My one issue with it is that I can never get the scent. I wonder if perhaps its a tad too cold to bring the scent out. One day I will snip a few stems and bring it indoors to see if it makes a difference.

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    1. That has to be worth a try. I think I might cut some for my office, just to see. You have the lids! Is this some new kind of north/south divide?

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  30. How lovely to have fragrance floating around the garden on these grey dismal days! Someone gobbled my January too!!!xxx

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    1. It is! I think a fleeting January is a blessing. Here's hoping we get a super-slow and sunny June.

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