CHRISTMAS BOX (Sarcococca), Fragrant sweet box

Asia and The Himalayas


Sarcococca is a species of winter-flowering evergreen shrub, named from the Greek – sarka (flesh) + kokkos (berry) for its fleshy fruits. The Christmas Box adapts to many situations, and is recommended for  shade. Its CREAMY WHITE blossoms are succeeded by black berries.

At Capel Manor Enfield, where I did my gardening course, our class was taken out into the grounds one cold, crisp winter’s day. We rounded a corner of the main building and the intensely sweet fragrance of a large, flowering gumdrop-shaped Christmas Box virtually knocked our socks off. Unforgettable, it was.

Christmas Box in rock garden, Gillespie Park, February 2016.


A line of Sarcococca shrubs has been planted behind the Ecology Centre in Gillespie Park, along the steps at the edge of the rock garden.

A few winters ago a relentless wind was blowing a large early bumblebee about Finsbury Park Station’s concrete concourse, giving it a hard time. I offered it an open palm to crawl onto. When it had settled there, I covered it lightly with the other hand, then carried it across Seven Sisters Road to the stairs leading up into Gillespie Park. In warmer months, wildflowers such as Buddleia – where a faded bee could be left to revive itself with a drink of nectar – can usually be found blooming at the top of the stairs from Seven Sisters Road.

But there was nothing in bloom on this cold winter’s day. We carried on, walking along the path towards the Ecology Centre, with the wind blowing constantly and the bumblebee holding itself flat to my palm with all its strength.


I reached the Centre and showed the bee to a member of staff, who suggested placing it in the Christmas Box by the rock garden for a reviving drink of nectar. This I did; as soon as the exhausted bee took a drink from one of the flowers it became visibly stronger & crawled down into the shrub. (photo)

There were bumblebees of the same species visiting flowers on the shrubs nearby, also drinking in the Christmas Box’s winter nectar. This was obviously THE place to come for any early bees.


“Starting in February & throughout late winter, the little shrubs are covered with tiny creamy-white tubular flowers that release sufficient perfume to really spice up a shadily enclosed garden. Ours are planted at the entry to a shaded corridor-garden between house & garage, an area that holds in the perfume very nicely.

The shrub is self-pollinating. The male flowers have pink anthers; the female flowers have two styles. Flowers are followed by purple-black berries which add considerable ornamental value.”

 Paghat’s Garden is a northwest Pacific US site, but she has much to share with those of us who live elsewhere.

Christmas Box, Gillespie Rd front garden

Christmas box, flowers & berries


“Perhaps the most desirable of all the sarcococcas is S. hookeriana var. digyna, which has narrow, pointed leaves that make it look very graceful.”
Mary Keen, Telegraph, 5th Jan 2002