Should I choose Box or Box-Leaf Holly?
If you are in the colder inland parts of the North & Scotland, or on the coast, then Box-Leaf Holly, Ilex crentata, or its dwarf variety, Convexa, are definitely the best choice. Another alternative for coastal sites are Hebes, but they are a bit larger and less formal.
Common box won't grow well right on the coast anyway, and although it is perfectly hardy, it comes out of a harsh Northern winter looking a bit sad until the new foliage comes through.
Common box is susceptible to two diseases that do not affect Box-Leaf Holly:
- Box Blight Fungus: It typically only affects Common & Dwarf Box in humid places (which are more common in the South & West of England and Wales) with poor air flow.
The risk is decreased if the box is clipped during dry weather, when the blight spores are less active.
- Box Moth: The caterpillars only cause cosmetic damage, and can be killed with pesticide or organic controls.
- Box-Leaf Holly is disease-free, grows on the coast, and performs best in the coldest regions of the UK. You can clip it any time of year, which makes it ideal for very neat formal uses & topiary.
- Common Box is the most shade-tolerant, won't grow on the coast, and tends to experience cosmetic leaf damage in the coldest, windiest parts of the UK.
Clip it during winter to reduce risk of disease.
What are Sweet Box Plants Good for?
There are three big differences between Sweet Box, Sarcococca confusa, and the other two Boxes described above:
- It has larger, less dense leaves, and so does not clip quite as nicely into perfect formal lines and curves.
- It has very fragrant flowers. These appear in winter, when there is not much else to smell around the garden.
- It will grow in really full shade, in dry soil under other evergreen plants, and prefers a well sheltered location.
All of those features combined give Sweet Box a special purpose, because it does not really need to be seen to be appreciated.
- It can be used as ground cover around and under bigger plants where it receives no direct sun, and isn't really visible as you walk past.
- In really shady, humid, sheltered areas where the other Boxes are not so ideal, it can still replace them as a low ornamental hedge