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27 September 2013

Aucubas - Ideal for a Shady Garden

Aucuba Japonica, commonly known as spotted laurel, is an ideal plant to brighten up a shady border, with it's gold-speckled,leathery green leaves. Aucubas have few requirements and are easy to grow, and being evergreen look good all year round. They are also drought-tolerant.

They will tolerate a wide range of soil types as long as the soil doesn't become waterlogged, and like full or partial shade, so avoid placing them in a south-facing border. Their golden-speckled leaves look their best when in shade.

Most aucubas form a rounded bush reaching an ultimate height and spread of 1.5 to 2.5m in 10 to 20 years. Their dense foliage goes from ground level upwards so there is no unsightly stem to see. Most plants sold are female, and if cross-pollinated by the reddish-purple flowers of a male plant, they can produce large red berries.

The best time to prune an aucuba is between March and late spring, when they can be trimmed to form mounds.

To propagate aucubas take cuttings in September from the current year's growth, cutting below a node. Trim down any overlarge leaves and then plant the cuttings in a 1:1 mix of horticultural sand and compost and leave them to root.

Aucubas can survive for decades and can be rejuvenated after years of neglect, as can be seen from the display at Brodsworth Hall near Doncaster. These bushes were planted in the 1860s and were neglected for a century but are now flourishing again.

Most garden forms are derived from Aucuba japonica, which was introduced into Britain in 1783, with the commonest being the variegated green and gold 'Crotonifolia'which has large leaves speckled in yellow. 'Golden King' is considered to have the best variegated leaves, being similar to, but more striking than 'Crotonifolia'.

Other varieties to look out for include:-

Rozannie which has lance-shaped, glossy dark green leaves and both male and female flowers

Longifolia which is a female form with narrow bright green leaves, and which bears fruit

Variegata which is a a female cultivar with glossy leaves heavily spotted with creamy-yellow. It has small purple flowers which may be followed by glossy bright red berries if a male clone is close by.

If you would like to see a wide range of aucubas, why not visit the National Collection at Stourbridge in the West Midlands, where 30 types are on display.

I hope you find room in your garden for an aucuba or two - I'm sure you won't regret it.
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