Familiarity definitely breeds contempt. I wonder how many little Skimmia japonica ‘Rubella’ plants, bought in autumn for their rich red flower buds, ever make it to blooming. They are sold in tiny pots, a couple of cuttings in each, and they probably dry out and die before they bloom. Which is a great pity since not only is it a waste, the flowers are deliciously fragrant. In fact, I wonder how many skimmias survive at all since they are usually produced, as rapidly as possible by the nursery, with several cuttings planted together, to produce an unnaturally bushy plant.
This is not conducive to a long and productive life for a plant, with excessive competition from the plantlets.
Skimmias are also not that easy to please in the garden and I have rarely had great success with them. This is rather strange since the first time I knew them well was at Kew where they were grown as bushy ground cover in dense, dry shade under trees. Here the male ‘Kew Green’ was a wonderful evergreen shrub and the flowers pumped out sweetness on the air in March. It is not often enough explained to gardeners that most skimmias are male or female and the most often sold are males because of their colourful flower buds that form in late summer and eventually open in spring. These will not produce berries. If you buy a (female) plant with berries it will not have more unless you plant a male too.
Skimmias hate lime. They do not like wet soil and, in theory, they do not like dry soils either. But their thick, rather fleshy roots suggest that dryness, once established, is better than wetness. They need some shade – in full sun they can get scorched and yellow. In deep shade they can lose their compact habit and not flower well. Finding the right spot can be difficult but, if you do, they are attractive, rich green, rounded shrubs.
In recent years, ‘Magic Marlot’ has become a popular variegated form, with nurseries at least. Once again, I have never found quite the right place to suit it and it has slowly shown its unhappiness by fading away. In fact, I have never mourned its passing and never quite loved the combination of buttery yellow edges to the leaves.
And now we have ‘Perosa’, a variegated skimmia with larger leaves, slightly uneven in shape, with an overlay of white to create a mix of grey shades. It actually reminds me of a variegated pseuderanthemum for those of you living in warmer climes who do not need to bother with skimmias. It is supposed to be an improvement on existing variegated skimmias because of improved root growth and greater vigour as well as brighter flower buds. I am becoming a bit jaundiced about new shrubs, often selected because they are better for nurseries rather than gardeners, but I was tempted by this one. It is planted in a spot that is basically sunny for now but will be shaded as surrounding plants grow. It is too early to rate it yet, but I actually want this one to survive.