Sarcocca Winter Gem
Angela Slater
Daughter of a farmer and market gardener so have always had a connection with the outdoors, whether it was keeping animals or producing fruit, vegetables and cut flowers. Along with my work at Hayes Garden World I also have a smallholding, mainly breeding rare breed pigs. I gained an HND and BSc in Conservation and Environmental Land Management, as a result I am an ardent environmentalist and have a keen interest in environmentally friendly gardening. In my time at Hayes I worked for several years in the Outdoor Plant and Houseplant areas

Best garden plants for beginners

We have chosen just a few plants which are perfect for novice gardeners

Best first plant for winter scent

Sarcocca ‘Winter Gem’ (Christmas Box, shown above)) is a small evergreen shrub with an absolutely gorgeous scent over the winter when there is very little perfume in the garden. Plant in a spot which has a good humus content, this is soil with a high amount of organic matter. It needs to drain well as they don’t like sitting in cold waterlogged soil over the winter. If you have a sandy gritty soil add some good quality peat-free compost to the planting hole.

If you are planting it in a container use the same peat-free compost, place a piece of crock over the hole in the bottom of the container, this allows the excess water to run out of the compost and prevents the hole blocking with silt. Raise the pot off the ground with either pot feet or by standing it on a couple of bricks, this allows the water to run clear of the pot.

Currently box hedging is suffering from box blight which is decimating box trees, once you have it there is no alternative but to pull up the and burn the plants. Sarcocca is a good substitute for the Box; it is evergreen and slow growing making it ideal for use in a formal garden parterre or as a crisp edge to an herbaceous bed. Even a contemporary design can benefit from an edging of Sarcocca, just fill in the centre with a low maintenance single species such as heuchera, Carex ‘Elijah Blue’ or Leucothoe ‘Rainbow’. A single variety of spring bulbs such as the clean white of ‘Pheasant Eye’ narcissus, a mixture of tulip ‘Angelique’ and ‘Queen of the Night’ or yellow primulas punctuated with crown imperials.

Sarcocca is very slow growing so is unlikely to need constant trimming, don’t feed with a high nitrogen fertiliser as this will encourage it to put out a lot of soft leggy growth which will be susceptible to hard frosts. Just sprinkle a little general purpose slow release fertiliser around the plant in spring. It will need monitoring for water in the first year until it has put down sufficient roots to reach the damp layer of soil. If there is a long dry spell water either first thing in the morning or the cool of the evening, this ensures that the water goes into the soil. If you water in the heat of the midday sun a lot of the water evaporates which is just a waste of water and your time spent watering.

Best plant for bees

Lavender is the go to plant for the bees and also for ourselves if we want to introduce some scent into the garden. If you love the formality of a parterre garden try edging it with lavender instead of the usual box. It also suits a contemporary urban garden, just plant a whole bed with a shorter variety such as ‘Munstead’ or ‘Hidcote’. For a contemporary take on an old fashioned rose bed underplant David Austin’s shrub roses with lavender.

It needs well-draining soil and plenty of sunshine so ideal for a low maintenance Mediterranean style garden. It grows well in a container, just mix some horticultural grit into some peat-free good quality compost. Place a piece of broken crock over the drainage hole so that the hole does not clog with silt and water can drain away. It will die if it sits in cold sodden compost over the winter.

Place containers next to seats so you can really appreciate the glorious fragrance. Once it has finished flowering cut off the top third and it may give you a second lot of flowers later in the season. Don’t feed it at all otherwise you will get leggy foliage and very little flowers.

Best first plant for beginners

Choisya (Mexican Orange Blossom) is an evergreen shrub with deliciously scented flowers and beautiful shiny dark green leaves. It flowers twice a year in April/May and again in September/October. There are several varieties available so there is sure to be one to suit. If growing in a container be sure and use good quality peat free shrub or tree compost and place in a position where you can appreciate it’s delicious scent, either besides the back door or your favourite seat or plant up two identical containers and place either side of your front door. 

If growing it in an herbaceous border make sure to give it plenty of space as it does grow to be a sizeable shrub. It is very low maintenance needing no pruning so just plant and leave it. It will need to be watered in dry spells the first year until it’s roots reach damp soil. Once it has been planted for a couple of years just give it a little slow release general purpose granular fertiliser in spring. It’s dark glossy leaves provide the perfect foil for growing light coloured flowers in front, such as the creamy spires of foxgloves or Verbascum.

We have an ever-changing selection of shrubs, trees, roses, alpines, annual bedding, herbaceous plants, climbers, fruit and vegetables in our Outdoor Plant department. Please call in if you are starting your first garden and our knowledgeable staff will be able to advise you on how to look after your plants and what plants would suit your particular situation.

rose The Lady Gardener

Other easy plants for first timers include: David Austin shrub roses (The Lady Gardener, shown above), Prunus ‘Kojo-no-mai’, hebes, grasses, perennial geraniums, sedums and small ornamental trees (crab apples and decorative rowans).

Other easy plants include: 

Buddleja davidii 'Pink Delight' (shrub)

Pulmonaria 'Raspbery Splash' (perennial)

Hebe 'Celine' (shrub)

Verbena bonariensis (perennial)

Digitalis purpurea 'Dalmation Cream' (perennial)

Aquilegia Spring Magic 'Rose and White' (perennial)