December's plant of the month is Sarcococca – also known as Christmas box. It’s a great addition to the winter garden: not only is it evergreen, but it’s also very sweetly scented, filling the garden with an aroma of vanilla. Its fragrant white flowers decorate the garden over winter and early spring, and as if that wasn’t enough they’re followed by red and black berries.
You might think a shrub with such scent and beauty would be tricky to grow – but Sarcococca is tough, reliable and straightforward in the garden. It’s perfect for a shady border, happy in containers and also makes great ground cover, growing slowly and gradually to form low-growing mounds of glossy evergreen foliage.
There are several varieties to choose from: Sarcococca confusa is most commonly grown, making a rounded shrub about 1.2m tall. S. hookeriana var. digyna ‘Purple Stem’ has elegantly pointed leaves and deeply-coloured near-black bark. For containers, look out for S. ruscifolia ‘Dragon’s Gate’, very compact at just 60cm tall with dainty, narrow leaves.
Once those graceful little flowers appear in winter and open to release that powerful perfume, cut some branches and bring them indoors – they’ll look fabulous among other winter flowers for Christmas table centres and they’ll fill your home with fragrance.