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December's plant of the month is Sarcococca

25 November 2014

December's plant of the month is Sarcococca, better known as Christmas box. There are few better festive gifts from the garden on a crisp winter's day, too, as the air fills with rich, sweet perfume from its tiny, deceptively insignificant flowers.

Both the main varieties, neatly domed S. confusa and S. hookeriana var. digyna with its more slender, pointed leaves, are evergreen, reaching about 1m tall and wide, and grow well in any situation including quite deep shade. They're best planted right by a path or the back door where you can appreciate that powerful winter perfume.

Tolerant of most soils except those which are very dry, they need little care beyond a light haircut in late spring to keep them neat and in bounds. Smaller varieties, like S. hookeriana var humilis, only grow to 60cm tall and are easily clipped into low hedges.

The tiny, spidery cream flowers are borne hidden among the leaves from December to February, though you won't miss them - their scent is out of all proportion to their size. They're followed by shiny black berries, before retreating into the background to make an elegantly glossy, dark green foil for brighter summer blooms and wait for Christmas to come round again.

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