Laurel and hardy

Figuratively speaking winter has its own way of separating the men from the boys. 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.

But if they are so tough, why not bring them indoors where they can, at least, provide a bit of greenery – constant greenery? Which is where Aucuba japonica variegata come in, literally, from the cold.

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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 45degF and keep it out of direct sunlight, and it will produce those lovely mottled leaves. You can mist the leaves occasionally and wipe them down to remove all dust, but other than that, leave it alone.

Left to its own devices, it could eventually become a fairly large and woody shrub; so prune it to shape when it is being repotted every 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.