Fully hardy and from the Buxaceae family, Sarcococca species are slow-growing, evergreen, highly-fragrant, winter-flowering shrubs.
There are a few different varieties but the most desirable must be Sarcococca hookeriana var. digyna ‘Purple Stem’. Flowering from December through to March it is an upright, compact, suckering, evergreen shrub which gradually forms a dense thicket. The new shoots are flushed with an attractive dark purple-pink hue which gradually fades as the stems mature.
The stems are clothed with slender, tapering, dark green leaves and in winter sweetly scented, pink-tinged, white flowers appear, followed by rounded blue-black fruit which are highly attractive to birds.
This delightful shrub prefers a shady location but will tolerate full sun if its feet are kept cool and damp. In fact they will tolerate most things; dry shade, sea air, atmospheric pollution, even neglect. However if planted in moderately fertile, moist but well-drained humus-rich soil in shade, this plant will thrive and reach a maximum height and spread of 1.5 metres.
S. hookeriana var. digyna ‘Purple Stem’ is excellent for ground cover, as well as informal hedging, is particularly suited to cottage or informal style gardens and requires minimal maintenance. In late winter or early spring lightly prune back shoots that spoil the plant’s symmetry, before applying a generous mulch of well-rotted compost should be applied around the base of the plant. Propagate by semi-hardwood cuttings taken in late summer or by seed sown in containers outdoors in autumn or spring.
With its many positive attributes this plant really is an urban gardener’s delight and will go a long way to enticing us out into our winter gardens.