When I was a kid, with a very active imagination, my friend’s parents bought a new fridge. Seeing that cardboard monolith that I could turn into a fighter plane. I couldn’t help but say “dude, sweet box!” Nowadays, when I say Sweetbox I’m talking about Sarcococca hookeriana var. humilis, what I think is an underused but extremely versatile plant.
Let’s start with the common name. Sweetbox is so named because of the sweetly scented spring flowers it produces. The foliage is a gorgeous, glossy green. Sweetbox is one of my problem solver plants. In terms of light requirements, less light is better. It’ll start to thin out and fade away with too much sun, so partial to full shade is better. It also stays small, maxing out at 12-15 inches tall. Spread is typically listed at 2 to 4 feet and that really just depends on how happy it is.
There are a few uses that I think sweetbox is made for. It makes for a nice border along the edge of a bed. It’s also great for filling in those random, small, full shade niches homebuilders stick us with. Just be sure the area where you’re planting sweetbox drains well. While it’ll tolerate our clay soils, sweetbox won’t tolerate sitting in a mud puddle.
Sweetbox is in the boxwood family, so just be aware of boxwood blight. If you’ve had that fungal disease on your property, I’d say boxwood and sweetbox are off the menu. Other than that, it’s a solid little performer that has delighted dozens of my clients over the years I’ve worked in Virginia.