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Outdoor Plants of the Month – Skimmias, Rhododendrons & Camellias
Add interest to your autumn/winter garden with our Plants of the Month. The best of both worlds; enjoy glossy, attractive foliage during autumn/winter and beautiful flowers from late spring/early summer.
A compact evergreen shrub with simple, glossy, aromatic leaves and fragrant white or yellowish flowers in April and May followed by long-lasting winter berries.
Most Skimmia varieties are dioecious, meaning they are either male (M) or female (F), so it is important that both sexes are planted to ensure the females produce their bright red berries. Some are self-fertile (S) and will produce berries by themselves, but these will produce more fruit if a male is grown close by.
Grow in a shady position on a good, moist, neutral to acid soil with added well-rotted manure. Skimmias will tolerate a chalky soil that has been improved with well-rotted organic matter but as they are also perfect for growing in containers so this is the best choice if your soil is very chalky. Avoid full sun which can cause yellowing of the leaves.
Popular varieties include;
JAPONICA RUBELLA (M)
This small, good looking, dome-shaped shrub has long, smooth green leaves. Skimmia produce male and female flowers on separate plants. The males have better flowers and fragrance than the females, but lack berries. This shrub has, arguably, the finest flower buds of them all carried in bell-shaped clusters. The flower buds are mahogany-red, a deep, dusky colour that lasts all winter. In March and April they swell and redden before the white flowers appear. The flowers carry an especially strong, sweet fragrance, detectable at some distance.
JAPONICA ‘PABELLA’ (F)
A bushy, evergreen shrub, to 1m tall, with glossy, dark green, elliptic leaves. Panicles of small, fragrant white flowers in spring are followed by glossy green fruit which ripen to bright red in autumn and persist on the plant through the winter, if accompanied by a male variety.
JAPONICA SUBSP. REEVESIANA (S)
This is a small Skimmia with slender long leaves, pointed at their ends, mid to light green and pinky-red on the underside. It covers itself with fragrant flowers in spring. They are like rounded pyramids, often in clusters of two or three, somewhat like the flowers of a tiny lilac. Later in the year there are profuse quantities of red berries. This grows to around 90cm (3ft) in both height and spread but it takes a long time to reach these dimensions.
For those lucky enough to have acid soil, Rhododendrons and Azaleas are undoubtedly the show stoppers of the spring garden, with their amazing flower display, in Jewel like colours through to dainty pastel shades. They also offer a range of foliage and textural effects from huge paddle like leaves on some of the species to the tiny leaves of some of the alpine species. Some leaves have a suede like hairy covering on their underside called ‘Indumentum’ which can be brown, burgundy or silver and deciduous Azaleas will have glorious foliage colour before the leaves drop. For those gardeners who soil is slightly alkaline a range of Rhododendrons are now grafted on to a root stock called ‘Inkarho’, which produces a plant of slightly shorter vigour, which will happily grow in less than ideal soil i.e. slightly alkaline to heavy soil.
Traditional types require an acid soil. Where the soil is very alkaline a raised bed can overcome this or they make very good specimen container plants.
Rhododendrons are the ideal subject for that shady site. Shade from the early morning sun helps to reduce frost damage to the early flowering varieties. Generally the flowering time is mid spring to early summer.
Rhododendrons should not be planted too deeply. Plant with an ericaceous compost in a moist well drained site. Water in dry weather especially in the first season. Mulching helps to conserve moisture; leaf-mould or garden compost are ideal.
Deadheading faded flower trusses creates the effect of better growth and flower buds for the next season. Care should be taken not to break the young shoots just below the flowers. Giving a last feed in July with Tomorite will help with the formation of the next years flower buds. Ensure they don’t dry out, especially if planted in containers!
These range from the large plants usually seen in large woodland gardens growing some 3m high to the dwarf species that take 15 years to reach 1m but spreading wider, making a low mass of growth.
These range from 3m for the large hybrids to 1m for the dwarf, within the medium group are the yakushimanum hybrids familiarly called “yak” hybrids. These are compact low growing and free flowering making them suitable for the smaller garden. Yak varieties are the best choice for growing in containers.
For more information please visit our Rhododendron page.
Dark, glossy foliage and perfectly beautiful flowers, Camellias are one of the most popular winter and spring flowering shrubs, providing a welcome splash of spring colour to your garden.
Camellias are evergreen plants that belong to the tea family and can grow in the form of a shrub or small tree. Camellias can bloom during the autumn, winter and spring, depending on the geographic location and type of camellia. Showy flowers transpire in a number of different forms from single to fully double, and the colour range is white, cream, yellow, pink and red, some types of Camellia produce variegated flowers. Flowers are generally not fragrant, but they easily attract bees thanks to vibrantly coloured petals.
Camellias are by nature woodland plants and relish acid soil.
Camellias make lovely container-grown plants and this is a particularly good method if your garden soil is too alkaline for camellias.
For more information please visit our Camellias page.