HOW TO GROW THE CHRISTMAS BOX - Sarcococca hookeriana var. humilis

Sarcococca hookeriana var. humilis shrub
Sarcococca hookeriana var. humilis

Commonly known as the Christmas Box or Himalayan sweet box, Sarcococca hookeriana var. humilis is a popular garden choice for a winter blooming effect. Native to the Himalayas, the original species is a rarely found, erect -growing evergreen shrub and named in honour of Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker (June 1817 – December 1911), Charles Darwin's closest friend and Director of the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew.

The 'humilis' variety is a dwarf, densely-branched selection which seldom reached 60 cm high. It was first found in Western China and was introduced to British science by Ernest Wilson in 1908. The shiny elliptic leaves are a deep green colour. The flowers are creamy-white with pink anthers and appear over the winter. Once pollinated these are followed by small black berries. While the flowers are not as attractive as spring and summer flowering specimens, this is more than made up for with the heady, honey scented fragrance that accompanies them.

Sarcococca hookeriana var. humilis will perform best in semi-shade to full shade, but it will tolerate full sun if grown in permanently moist soil conditions. It will require a sheltered position in any moderately fertile, moist but well-drained humus-rich, slightly acidic soils although it will also thrive in heavy clay and chalk. It is also tolerant of atmospheric pollution, dry shade and (which is good news for most gardeners) neglect. Newly planted specimens will need to be watered regularly until they become established.

They are relatively cold hardy and will grow fine in the warmer regions of the United Kingdom and Ireland. The further north you go you will need to consider apply cold protection.

You can also grow Sarcococca hookeriana var. humilis as a low maintenance container plant using soil based compost such as John Innes No.3.

It is generally, pest free, trouble free and does not require regular pruning. However you can remove any unwanted suckers from the base of the plant. If you do need to prune the do so in the spring after flowering has finished.

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HOW TO GROW THE CHRISTMAS BOX - Sarcococca hookeriana var. humilis


Mature coffee plants in full flower
How to grow a coffee plant from seed

Everyone is familiar with coffee, and you can purchase the beans readily enough when required to ground down and make a steaming cup of coffee. However, be aware that you cannot germinate these beans as they have been roasted prior to package - rendering them effectively lifeless.

The actual bean is of course the seed. When harvested and cultivated correctly will germinate and grow into a new coffee plant capable of producing its own beans. The two most commonly used species for coffee production is Coffea arabica and Coffea canephora. Coffea arabica is indigenous to the forests of the southwestern highlands of Ethiopia, while Coffea canephora has its origins in central and western sub-Saharan Africa

To grow a coffee plant from seed you will first need to purchase fresh, viable coffee seeds. These can usually be found at specialist seed suppliers online or available in good quality garden centers.

Once you have received your coffee seeds they will need to be soaked in tepid, sterilised or distilled water for 24 hours. Cooled, previously boiled water will be fine

Using a modular seed tray filled with damp sand or preferably wet vermiculite in which the excess water has been drained sow the seeds by pressing inseed into the surface of the media, but do not bury. Otherwise, you can place the seeds between moist hessian material, which should be watered twice a day. Drain off the excess water as the roots will not survive waterlogged conditions. Place the coffee seeds in a warm bright position but out of direct sunlight. Using a heated propagator will provide the fastest germination times, use a temperature of between 18-22 degrees Celsius. Germination time will be between 2 and 6 months depending on rooting temperature.

Once the coffee seeds have germinated and are large enough to handle, very carefully remove it from modular tray hessian fabric disturbing the root system as little as possible. Those seedlings grown in vermiculite should lift out with the least damage.

Using 9-10 cm terracotta pots containing a well-drained slightly acidic (ericaceous) loam soil with a high humus content, make a hole about 1.25 cm deep and gently plant the coffee seedling. If you are growing a large number of seedlings then consider adding well-rotted manure, bone meal, and dried blood to the compost mixture. The seeds should be watered daily to keep the roots moist at all times, but again allow any excess water to drain away.

Orchid fertilizer can be used once a month.

The coffee plant has evolved to grow in tropical conditions and so cannot be left to grow outside in mediterranean or temperate climates. Once established, water twice a week, keep the soil moist but well drained. You can expect your speciment to reach flowering age after 2-3 years, which of course are followed by coffee berries.

Main image credit - CC BY-SA 3.0,

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Mature wild garlic plant in white flower
How to get rid of wild garlic

I love wild garlic - Allium ursinum, but as a native to Asia, Europe and the temperate regions of the United Kingdom it has a nasty little habit of self-seeding and taking over your carefully manicured borders. Now a thousand years ago or so this wouldn't have been much of an issue as the bulbs of the wild garlic were a particular favourite of both the wild boar and brown bear (Ursus arctos). Of course, a thousand years ago there wasn't much call for gardening. Alas, both species have since become extinct in Britain (although wild boars are now being reintroduced to the shores), but not due to the efforts of despairing gardeners sick of shooing large mammals from their property.

Now while they may look like a cross between a white bluebell and a lily of the valley, wild garlic is notoriously difficult to eradicate once it takes a foothold. Not only does it self-seed, it produces bulblets from the parent bulb and occasionally the seeds germinate to form growing bulblets (also in leaf) from the pericarp.

Weeding wild garlic

Germinating wild garlic seeds still on the plant
How to get rid of wild garlic
This is the initial response to an outbreak of wild garlic, however in heavy soils the stems tend to break away just below the soil surface. This leaves the bulb in place for the plant to regrow from. In light soils it is possible for the bulb to lift straight from the ground however it is likely to leave any bulblets that may have formed. They best way to lift wild garlic bulbs is to try and loosen the soil below the bulbs using a hand fork or trowel and then lifting the bulb gently with the aid of the hand tool.

There is another issue here as wild garlic is an ephemeral plant meaning that it comes into leaf and flower before deciduous trees leaf in the spring. By the end of June the leaves begin to die back returning energy back to the bulb so if you haven't finished weeding by the end of the spring it may be too late as they would have disappeared to below ground level.

Weed killer

Old photograph of weed control
How to get rid of wild garlic
Of course the reason why you are reading this article is because weeding isn't working and so apart from boars and bears your best method of control is likely to be chemical weed killers. That being said you will require a systemic weed killer (such as a glyphosate based product) where the active chemical is drawn into the bulb to kill it off. However wild garlic is surprisingly robust and a single dose will not be enough on mature plants. With systemic weed killer the plant will need to be active growing for the chemical to work efficiently, once overnight temperatures are regularly above 7 degrees Celsius. This means that there is only a short period of time from when the weed killer will work to when the leaves die back so timing will be all important as you will really need at least two applications.

Organic Control

Old carpet being used to kill off weeds
How to get rid of wild garlic
Due to the robustness of wild garlic there is arguably only method of organic control and this is probably best suited for overgrown allotments. This method is to cover the area with old carpet for a year (maybe two, possibly three) and then hand weed any plant resulting from seeds still viable in the soil.

Main image credit - Kurt Stüber - part of

In text image - By U.S. Department of Agriculture - 00DI0874, Public Domain,

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