Laurel and hardy

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Winter has an unpleasant way of weeding out the weak – when the temperature drops and the chill factor goes up, the majority of plants in the garden either shed their leaves or turn to mush.

The compost bin is soon filled to capacity, and the evergreens are left to stand out among the leafless and bare-stemmed to show how capable they are of surviving outdoors whatever the weather has to offer.

But if they are so tough, why not bring some of them indoors where they can at least provide a bit of greenery – constant greenery? Many don’t fit the bill, but there is at least one which could well be perfect – Aucuba japonica variegata can, literally, come in from the cold.

Normally, you’d expect to see the handsome, variegated spotted laurel brightening up a dull, cold corner in the garden, but there is a form which has a history of living indoors, particularly in those draughty, shady spots where other foliage houseplants would soon lose their leaves.

Where you wouldn’t expect to see it is in a centrally-heated, well-lit room because this is not a plant which needs – or likes – to be pampered. Give it a maximum temperature of 45F and keep it out of direct sunlight, and it will produce those lovely mottled leaves.

Occasionally, you can mist the foliage and wipe them down to remove all the dust which inevitably accumulates indoors. Other than that, leave it alone.

Left to its own devices – and given a big enough container filled with a decent compost – it could eventually become a fairly large and woody shrub; so prune it to shape when repotting in the spring.

In winter, water it sparingly and don’t feed; while it is growing strongly in spring and summer, increase the watering and feed regularly.

You can propagate it by taking stem cuttings in late summer. They root fairly easily.

And to give it a bit of a summer treat, pop it outside on the patio or stand it in a border where it can have a chat with its bigger cousins, which are also grown for their attractive foliage and, if they are female and there’s a male growing nearby, red berries.