Category Archives: garden visits

exploring other gardens

Winter’s Fragrant Sweetbox (Sarcococca)

sweetbox blooming in January, Scented Sarcococca, sweetbox, sweet box, Sarcococca ruscifolia, Sarcococca confusa, Sarcococca hookeriana, Sarcococca humilis, Christmas box, winter vanilla plant, January bloom, garden Victoria BC Pacific Northwest
photo by SVSeekins

Climbing the stairs to a friend’s front door & ringing the bell, I wait. DP takes time answering. & I’m happy with that. There’s a sweet smell in the air. It is just delightful.

There aren’t any blooms to be seen. Most of DP’s garden has died to the ground for the winter. All, except an unassuming evergreen shrub & a couple of sword ferns.

It turns out this plain shrub is strategically planted beside the porch. There’s a clue in its name: sweetbox. The scent is lovely…
and once established, the shrub thrives in the dry shade of the house foundations. It’s happy here & it makes visitors happy, too.

sweetbox blooming in January, Scented Sarcococca, sweetbox, sweet box, Sarcococca ruscifolia, Sarcococca confusa, Sarcococca hookeriana, Sarcococca humilis, Christmas box, winter vanilla plant, January bloom, garden Victoria BC Pacific Northwest
photo by SVSeekins

Sarcococca
(easier read than said)
… has tiny winter blossoms that hide, protected, under arching branches. The flowers that dangle below the leaves are pretty but far less astonishing than their perfume. The fragrance lingers in the mild winter air.

This clever plant has both male & female flowers. Any wayward insect seeking shelter under the canopy has lucked out. There’s a feast included! No need to wander further to feed. They party in place & the flowers get pollinated. Later on, birds enjoy the cover and feast on the berries. Sweet box is not only clever– it’s also considerate of others.

sweetbox blooming in January, Scented Sarcococca, sweetbox, sweet box, Sarcococca ruscifolia, Sarcococca confusa, Sarcococca hookeriana, Sarcococca humilis, Christmas box, winter vanilla plant, January bloom, garden Victoria BC Pacific Northwest
photo by SVSeekins

Usually, fragrant plants are left alone by deer. Sarcococca is an unusual case. This specimen flourishes because deer steer clear of high traffic areas. In a quiet woodland setting, deer take time to enjoy a regular browse. The Sarcococca in my yard was nibbled until I caged it for protection.

sweetbox blooming in January, Scented Sarcococca, sweetbox, sweet box, Sarcococca ruscifolia, Sarcococca confusa, Sarcococca hookeriana, Sarcococca humilis, Christmas box, winter vanilla plant, January bloom, garden Victoria BC Pacific Northwest
photo by SVSeekins

CH, from garden club, says she’s planted a sweetbox at each entrance to her home. She also grows a small variety in a pot in her shaded courtyard. When it begins to bloom in January, she brings the pot into the house to enjoy the heavenly perfume.
Smart gardener!

It’s not much to look at, but I understand why Sarcococca is honoured with the valuable garden real estate beside the front door. Right now, in the dreariest time of year, such a fragrant surprise is a gift.

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Other January gems in the Pacific Northwest:

Orange Candleflower

I’ve admired the fall show of Orange Candleflower for ages. I first saw the funky, candle-like seed spikes beside the front gate at Abkhazi garden. Later, KL & I admired swaths of them in a woodland at Government House garden.

Arum Italicum, orange candleflower, lords and ladies, cuckoo's pint, Italian lily, Italian arum, garden Victoria BC Pacific Northwest
photo by SVSeekins

Arum italicum leaves die back in the summer leaving a naked stem & seed head. Groovy, eh? Perhaps that’s why it’s sometimes called Lords & Ladies. The Lady is the shy, white, spring flower. The Lord is the seed head. His Lordship might be inconspicuous early on, but as he matures from green to bright red… he’s certainly aristocratic.

Arum Italicum, orange candleflower, lords and ladies, cuckoo's pint, Italian lily, Italian arum, garden Victoria BC Pacific Northwest
photo by SVSeekins

Over the years I’ve sourced Italian arum through the garden club. I carefully planted several small pots around our garden.
No joy.
The winter ephemeral leaves delight me from late autumn, right through winter & even spring…
but never flowers. 😦

Blooms are supposed to appear in May – but there’s SO MUCH going on then…. maybe I just missed them? Can I blame the deer? Word has it that Arum Lily, & all its parts, is poisonous to people & animals so my deer excuse doesn’t really fly.

Arum Italicum, orange candleflower, lords and ladies, cuckoo's pint, Italian lily, Italian arum, garden Victoria BC Pacific Northwest
photo by SVSeekins

This August I was delighted to spy a stem with berries maturing in a shady spot beside our garden gate. Hooray! Don’t believe me? Take a look…. way down…. one lonely stem… It’s really there!

Arum Italicum, orange candleflower, lords and ladies, cuckoo's pint, Italian lily, Italian arum, garden Victoria BC Pacific Northwest
photo by SVSeekins

I crossed my fingers hoping it would soon turn the vibrant red it’s famous for. It took some time but by October it glowed!

Arum italicum is a Mediterranean perennial that’s naturalized across Britain, Europe and even parts of Australia. It’s apparently causing enough nuisance in Oregon & Washington to be listed as invasive!

Arum Italicum, orange candleflower, lords and ladies, cuckoo's pint, Italian lily, Italian arum, garden Victoria BC Pacific Northwest
photo by SVSeekins

And here I am, excited about a single phallic seed stalk. It’s certainly not conquering anything in our garden.

Consulting several sources reveals these nobles cause revolts in moist environments. That’s probably why I have so little success with it – – I only drag around a water hose when it’s really needed.

I dream of seeing the Lady’s flower. Now my plan is to shift some into more favourable conditions – perhaps the hosta patch? When the hostas die back in the fall, the arum leaf will come alive.
Fingers crossed.

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Smile of the Day 3

There wasn’t time for a good look as we drove past…
So I asked the driver to turn around. I’m glad he did. Perhaps he got as big a smile out of seeing this happy little guy as I did.

Thanks to the creative folks who set this Jack-o’-lantern at the end of their driveway.

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