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Himalayan Sweetbox

As
a gardener I have always felt that traveling has provided me with
much inspiration and a dream for true diversity for my garden.
There have been times when my biggest trips were simply a short
drive to the lake where hiking, laughing, and relaxing were our
only goals. This summer I had the opportunity to visit the gardens
of the great Northwest for the first time. The weather was
fabulous, the view was spectacular, and I was continually amazed
at each garden that I visited.

In Seattle I encountered many
plants that we grow in Kentucky, but their size seemed huge in
comparison to how they grow here. The flowers on the roses were
dinner-plate size. We walked past a hellebore that was over 3 feet
tall and the fuchsia was out of this world. It was an incredible
journey.

Everyone-even folks in the
Northwest- is searching for that perfect plant. I am constantly
being asked for "a small, incredibly tough but beautifully
flowering evergreen plant that will grow in the shade." In
the past I have always recommended glossy abelia, pragense
viburnum, or mahonia, but these plants reach 5 to 6 feet in height
or more and can be too big for some spaces.

In the last few years we have
found and started using Sarcococca hookeriana var. humilis,
Himalayan sweetbox. It has beautiful, long lance-shaped evergreen
leaves and is small, reaching only to 18 to 24 inches in height.
This characteristic alone has made this plant one of our more
popular recommendations when a small evergreen for part to full
shade is required.

The sweetbox, with its dark
green foliage, prefers a growing environment similar to that of an
azalea-acidic, moist, and rich in organic matter. It will grow in
areas with a high pH but does not fill in as rapidly and its
foliage is generally a lighter yellow-green. It also prefers a
partially shaded site and an area that affords some protection
from drying winter winds. While at first this plant seems a little
finicky, once established, sweetbox has proven to become very
drought-tolerant.

The flowers are quite small
and a light natural white. They consist of simply the flower
parts, no showy petals or bracts. The fragrance makes you think
you have stumbled upon a gardenia or jasmine.

I have the perfect spot in my
garden for sweetbox. Lots of squirrels visit my garden and my dog
believes her job is to keep all squirrels out. This results in
lots of running and ripping through the garden, but particularly
under my galaxy magnolia where the unsuspecting rodents quickly
escape as soon as the dog appears. The hostas that were planted
underneath are completely smashed by the end of each summer. So we
will be replacing the hosta with something a little tougher, the
sweetbox.

It is difficult to find Sarococca
hookeriana
, but Sarococca hookeriana var. humilis is
available and can be found in your specialty garden centers.
Several other varieties can be found on occasion but are not hardy
in our area, such as Sacrococca ruscifolia, fragrant sarcococca,
and Sarcococca confusa. These varieties can be grown as
annuals or in a container planting.

My trips these days consist of
strolling around my garden dreaming of ways to change it, and long
walks in my neighborhood where it seems shrub roses are becoming
incredibly popular. While the flowers are only a third of the size
of those I observed in Seattle, they are just as beautiful,
because it’s always good to come home.

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