Skimmia is native to China and Japan. The name skimmia is derived from the Japanese name for the shrub, namely ‘shikimi’. There are several species and these grow in mixed woodland and clearings. Some kinds are low-growing but the species grown in gardens are mostly upright bushy shrubs. Because it is a natural woodland plant, skimmia does well in shade. It can tolerate quite heavy shade but tends to grow there as a rather spindly bush.

Plant family: Rue

Skimmia is part of the rue family, the Rutaceae, which contains rue itself, said to be a symbol of mourning and sorrow, as well as kumquat and other members of the citrus family, noted for sweet scent. As ordinary plants go, it is likely only to be joined in gardens by the burning bush, or dictamnus.

It has monoecious which means one kind, male or female, to each species, and there are some hermaphrodite powers which have both kinds. Male kinds, therefore, do not carry berries, compensating by carrying more flowers.

Garden value

Skimmia flowers in late spring and early summer around the month of May. The small individual flowers are carried in rounded clusters, and a mature shrub can be covered with flower clusters. The flowers are creamy white, opening from clusters of rounded buds that can be green or red-brown in colour.

Skimmia has a rich sweet scent that fills the space around it. It is very attractive to all manner of insects that come to feed on the nectar.

When a plant is affected by too much sunshine, the leaves tend to turn yellow at the edges and top part. In severe exposure to sunshine, the leaves can turn brown along the leaf edges and even drop off occasionally. On the other hand, a light touch of sunshine can often produce nice bleached effects on the leaves, making them attractive for flower arranging.

The feeding of the pollinating insects is very important for the transfer of pollen from the male plants to the females. Most skimmia kinds are either male, and non-berrying, or female and carry berries.

But there are some that carry both male and female flowers. The female-only plants need to have a male pollinator and it is often necessary to buy one of each. One male will suffice for ten or more female plants but it would be rare for such multiples of the females to be planted. In urban areas, there might well be a pollinator already nearby, but for rural gardens the chances of that are slim and it will usually be necessary to plant one of each, or to use the two-sex form, Skimmia japonica subsp. reevesiana. The shape of this plant is more lax and the fruiting is not as good as Skimmia japonica itself.

There are several selections from the main species. The most popular female kind grown in gardens is called ‘Veitchii’, also known as ‘Foremanii’ and it is a vigorous, upright bush with a very good show of flowers and berry clusters. ‘Rubella’ is the best-known male clone, with attractive large clusters of red-budded flowers that open with good scent, and a nice red edge to the leaves. There is an unusual white-berried form called ‘Fructu Albo’, and a free-flowering well-scented male clone called ‘Fragrans’.

Growing skimmia

Skimmia makes a good pot plant for a few years but begins to suffer root restriction and can be planted out in the open. It is not all that choosy about soil as long as the soil is not wet and certainly not water-logged in winter. This causes root rot and the affected plants die slowly.

Like most woodland plants, it likes plenty of humus in the soil and benefits from a mulch of organic material every year or so. It is ideal near a wall or a shady place at the corner of a house, where other plants will not like the shade.

It is slow-growing but can make a big broad bush in time, over two metres tall and three wide, but can be pruned by thinning it out each year after flowering.

Plant of the month: mimosa

Acacia baileyana.

Mimosa is fairly common in coastal gardens but very uncommon inland. It is not hardy and can suffer badly with a hard frost. The common mimosa, Acacia dealbata, is also known as the florist’s mimosa because it appears in florists shops in season, most likely imported from the south of France or Italy. This tree, which can grown to ten metres and more, is quite tender as a young plant and suffers from wind damage when it is older.

The smaller-growing Acacia baileyana, the Cootamundra wattle, is much tougher and plants can be seen growing in quite cold localities inland. It does well if given a wall for protection, or, at the very least is planted where cold frosty air will flow away downhill. If grown in dry, open sandy soil, it is much more likely to survive cold weather, but it would seem that this species is tougher than it is given credit for — and its flowering is tremendous in late winter, the whole bush turning to bright yellow. See if you can find a plant and try it.

This week’s reminders

Fruit, vegetables and herbs

Prune apple and pear trees if not already done. Lift rhubarb stools for forcing in a dark, warm place. For early crops, sow the seeds of early varieties of cabbage, cauliflower, carrots, lettuce and onions now. These must be started off in warm conditions.

Trees, shrubs and roses

As the ground is very wet, delay planting, because there is a danger of killing the roots in waterlogged soil. For most kinds, avoid ground that does not drain within a day or two of heavy rain. Roses can be pruned at any time in good conditions.


Perennial border flowers can be lifted and divided, if necessary. Many of these are beginning to show signs of new growth. Bedding flowers can be started off in a heated propagator now, but it is still too early for most of the easy kinds.


If the soil is firm enough, a first mowing can be carried out at any opportunity. If the lawn area has drainage, make sure that the drainage outlets are clear to allow surplus water to escape. The lawnmower can be serviced ahead of the coming season.

Greenhouse and house plants

If they are given reasonable care, Christmas houseplants, such as poinsettia, azalea and cyclamen can be made to last longer. They will need watering but only just enough to keep them moist, certainly do not leave them standing in water. Give no feeding yet.

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