Why you should plant Skimmia
Skimmia shrubs will not stop you in your tracks with showy bright blooms. They’re not the most eye catching shrub in a planting scheme – that is until winter arrives!
Skimmias are amongst the easiest of evergreen shrubs to grow. They have some brilliant attributes that no gardener should ignore.
These tough little evergreen shrubs are from the Himalayas and from Eastern Asia. They’ve settled down in Britain and do well in our gardens, parks and public landscape plantings. In fact, it is hard to imagine a garden without at least one Skimmia plant!
So why are they so useful to us?
Well at first glance those rather leathery looking leaves are mid-green and seem fairly ordinary. But those tough leaves are very wind and shade tolerant. They will even put up with salt laden winds when planted close to the coast! Skimmia are also a great choice for a city garden or a garden where air pollution might be high.
For many years we had relatively few varieties to plant. But in recent years new selections from breeders have widen the choice. This provides today’s gardener with many improved Skimmia varieties to plant.
But before I get into varieties we need to clear up the issue of whether you go for planting a male or a female Skimmia. Yes, that’s right sex even comes into gardening! Many Skimmia plants are dioecious – that is they have male and female flowers on different plants. This is especially true of the most common Skimmia that we grow; Skimmia japonica. So if it’s berries that you want in your garden then you’ll need to plant a female variety of Skimmia! But wait a minute…you’ll generally need a male one to pollinate it too!
Now there are exceptions and some of the recent plant selections have not only been to introduce good looking garden plants but also those that are self pollinating. In fact some probably even hermaphrodites. I have had one of these in my garden since it was introduced and I must say that it does exactly what it says on the tin! This Skimmia – called Obsession – produces a really good crop of berries every year and there is no male variety nearby.
Berries and bees
Whilst the ladies of the species have showy berries, the males tend to have the more showy flowers. Skimmia flowers are sweetly and strongly scented and they open in spring. This is when you will see them covered in several species of bees. I’ve noticed that, like lime tolerant heathers which are also in bloom then, honey or hive bees are especially fond of Skimmia.
But male skimmias often have very prominent and showy flower buds even before they open. These buds are attractive even from as early as September and will look good right the way through winter until they open in March. The widely available male variety ‘Rubella’ is superb. However, there are others now that are at least as good. Look out for ‘Rubinetta’ and ‘Seduction’! These are covered in red flower buds that make a really good feature right through winter. Look out also for the aptly named ‘Fragrant Cloud’ and the smaller growing green bud variety of Skimmia confusa called ‘Kew Green’.
If you have space for only one plant then ‘Obsession’ is a must! But if you’ve space for male and for female plants then make room for ‘Passion’! This variety is like an improved ‘Foremanii’ which is an old variety that’s been around for years.
What to plant with Skimmia
Skimmias look great growing in pots, especially when planted with other winter feature plants. I’d suggest planting them with winter flowering heathers, winter flowering pansies, miniature cyclamen, hellebores, dwarf early flowering bulbs and trailing variegated small leaf ivies. Eventually your skimmia plant will outgrow the container but then can be planted out in a shady place in the garden.
These plants like shade and are especially good for dry shade where so many plants struggle! They will need a bit of coaxing at first but once established they will look after themselves.
So rather than just passing them by as just another dull evergreen bush, I’d recommend that you stop and take a closer look at this most useful, scented and easy-to-grow garden plant!