Thursday, 17 February 2011

Spotted Laurel...

Fashions in gardening, garden design and garden plants come and go just as fashions do in clothing, it’s just that the timescale is a little different. Fads may pass in a season on the high street, but in the garden their development and decline can be measured in decades.

Take for example the Spotted Laurel, Aucuba japonica. This large evergreen shrub, originally a native of China, Japan and the Far East reached its peak of popularity here in the Victorian era. Back in those times, anything that held its leaves throughout the winter months was considered invaluable and those plants that brightened the often dark and sombre flavour of their gardens were seen as a great novelty. These spotted laurels hit both targets and were planted everywhere. Their fall from grace has been slow but steady ever since, but perhaps it’s time to reassess their virtues...

These aucubas really are amongst the toughest of performers in the garden, ably coping with conditions even the worst weeds would turn their noses up at. Densely shaded areas and dry rooty soils under the corrosive drip of trees are their speciality, and it is from these immensely difficult spaces that they shine out best. Their leaves you see are not just a dense dark green, but are speckled and spangled with yellow variegation, looking at its best like splashes of dappled sunshine reflecting off their glossy surfaces.
It is this ability to shine out from dark and unattractive settings and to grow in even the most unpromising of circumstances that have led to them, perhaps unfairly, to be associated with landscaping around parks public conveniences. Their success here and to the rear of smoke stained town houses has marred our view of these hardy survivors. 
Even the unfortunate name, ‘spotted’ laurel does them no favours, bringing to mind images of poorly, measled bushes. Although some of the older varieties may have had a chlorotic, jaundiced look, newer types such as ‘Crotonifolia’ have healthy, jagged leaves much more boldy marked. Female plants can also hold a crop of big shiny red berries right through the winter. Perhaps we should take the american’s approach here instead and call them “Gold Dust Plants’. 


The Aucubas, those one time megastars of the garden, fall from favour has surely lasted long enough. It is time to welcome these bright, good doers back into the garden...

3 comments:

  1. Sorry,never ever would this be in my garden Chris. Apart from the fact it grows too big, it's ungainly and gloomy. I don't think there's much to choose between the spotted and the plain version. I have an ongoing joke with a friend who thinks it's great and threatens to buy us one! It's saving grace are it's flowers which I photographed for the first time this year!

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  2. Hi Janet. Certainly, for much of the year you wouldn't give it a second glance. But in midwinter you have to admire its tenacity....

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  3. A beautiful plant, thanks for the information and great photos.

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