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 for Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day. Why not pop over there and see what else is blooming in gardens around the planet?