Skimmia japonica

This neat little shrub is a gift for the small garden, leaves, flowers and berries having the trimness of a doll’s-house plant. It makes a compact, evergreen mound about 4 feet (1.2 m) high with glossy, aromatic leaves, upright clusters of starry white scented flowers in spring, and shiny scarlet fruits which remain on the plant through the winter, for the birds disdain them. To achieve berries you must, however, have two plants, one of each sex, for the male and female flowers are not borne on the same bush.

The most attractive male clone in my view is called ‘Rubella’, with clusters of flowers which are red in the bud in winter, opening to white in spring. Its female companion could be ‘Foremanii’, and this will bear the fruits. Skimmias are rarely included in lists of winter-flowering plants, but I find the sprigs delightful to pick for small vases, mixed with winter jasmine.

Skimmias grow best in shade and do well in town gardens, as they are slightly tender without protection. They will tolerate lime, but in heavily alkaline soil are improved by an occasional mulch of peat. If grown among trees, I suggest a ground-cover of Galium odoraium, or sweet woodruff, a charming little white bedstraw which is aromatic and was used by English cottagers for many centuries to strew the floors and keep down lice and fleas. An English native, it will grow even in the deep shade of beech-trees. Some alpine nurseries supply it. Or a country friend might spare a few plants.

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