Sweet Success

Flowers set on bare branches are a delight in winter, but there are also some evergreen plants that flower. They are a great comfort to the soul during dreary winter days providing both foliage and blooms concurrently. Sarcoccoca is one of those plants and during winter small white flowers emerge and you will then soon discover a heady sweet scent when you walk past the plant.

Sarcococca takes its name from its round fruit sarkos being the Greek for flesh and kokkos for a berry. It was first introduced from West China by E.H Wilson in 1908. This plant certainly catches your senses rather than catches your eye for its beauty. Although the evergreen foliage resembles box and in the Buxaceae family, close inspection reveals that its leaves are alternate and pointed. Like box, Sarcococca prefers shade and prefers plenty of moisture. Out in the sun, it needs even more moisture and its foliage will be a paler green, but it is robust enough that it will still grow in these conditions. This charming plant works well in containers planted close to doorways and enclosed spaces where the sweet scent is captured for a more intense effect.

Here at RBGE we have been redesigning the borders that lead into our main reception just off Inverleith Row. The enclosed space close to our herbarium and library is between buildings and this shaded area was the perfect location for Sarcococca confusa and Sarcococca wallichii to be planted and enjoyed by the staff and many visitors entering the main building. Nowadays huge wafts of the sweet scent greet the visitors. We then underplanted with the extraordinary grass Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’ which has jet black linear foliage. We have also added a dwarf Narcissus ‘Tete a tete’ which drifts through the grass in spring to add to the floral interest. This planting combination works providing year round interest with scent, spring bulbs and evergreen foliage. 

Here is a list of Sarcococca that we currently have growing in the Living Collection:

Sarcococca confusa

Sarcococca wallichii

Sarcococca hookeriana

Sarcococca hookeriana var. digyna

Sarcococca hookeriana Bill. var.humilis

Sarcococca orientalis

Sarcococca ruscifolia var. chinensisSarcococca saligna

Sarcococca vagans

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  1. Laura Blore

    Will Sarcococca survive Perthshire winters? If so which one would you recommend as being hardiest?

    PS. Congratulations on the award

  2. Kirsty Wilson

    Hi Laura,
    Yes the Sarcococca is hardy and will survive in Perthshire down to -15C winters. I’d recommend Sarcococca confusa, Sarcococca hookeriana & Sarcococca hookeriana ‘Winter Gem’.