Thursday 23 November 2017

Skimmia - a year-round beauty

Skimmia carry clusters of bright red berries Photo: Gerry Daly
Skimmia carry clusters of bright red berries Photo: Gerry Daly

Gerry Daly

At this time of year, the female plants of skimmia carry clusters of bright red berries. Strangely, birds do not take the berries, which last on the bush from their time of formation in late summer right around to berry-forming time again. Meanwhile, the male bushes have now formed their flower buds that they hold in readiness for flowering in late spring. The flowers' buds are perfectly round, like little beads, and often coloured wine-red or green.

The flowers are creamy white, opening from the rounded buds. The bushes are very attractive to pollinating insects for nectar and pollen and skimmia is very fragrant with a rich, sweet scent.

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 and form berries of their own. The female-only plants need to have a male pollinator and people often buy one of each. In urban areas, there might be a male plant already in nearby gardens, but an isolated garden might not have a male form nearby. In any case, the male forms, though not berrying, flower well and are fragrant.

There are several selections from the main species. The most popular female kind grown in gardens is called Foremanii and it is a vigorous, upright bush with a very good show of flowers and berry clusters. Rubella is the best-known male form, with attractive large clusters of red-budded flowers that open with good scent, and a nice red edge to the leaves, while Finchy is similar with green buds and Fragrant Cloud is a male form noted for scent. There is a white-berried form called Fructu Albo.

Too much sunshine tends to give the plant a tired look and it is best to find a spot with good light but a few hours' shade. Too much shade reduces flowering and berrying, so a good balance has to be found.

Growing well in a pot for a few years, skimmia begins to suffer root restriction eventually, and can then be planted out. It is not all that choosy about soil as long as the ground is not wet. This causes root rots and the affected plants die. It likes plenty of humus in the soil and benefits from a mulch of organic material every year or so.

Why is my pittosporum withering?

Q. I got two pittosporum evergreen shrubs last year. They are in pots outside the front door and are exposed to the elements. I haven't been watering them as they get a fair bit of rain. One of the plants has started to wither. Would you recommend anything to save the plant? D Donoghue, Cork

A. That is the effect of exposure. These were young plants and probably not long out of the nursery, so quite soft, and may have gone dry at the root too. Place them out of the wind and water them just enough to keep them moist, drying slightly on the compost surface between waterings.

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