Skimmia are neat, compact, shade-loving evergreen shrubs which are one of the first to welcome in the spring with pinkish-red buds in March and April that burst into masses of tiny, creamy-white flowers. These are followed by distinctive, long-lasting shiny red winter berries, beautifully set off against the glossy, oval leaves. Reaching around 90cm (3 feet) tall, Skimmia are well-loved for using as the centre-piece in pots and containers, perhaps under-planted with low or trailing seasonal bedding. They’re particularly useful in woodland-style gardens but will thrive equally well in a semi-shaded spot in the border. Just make sure they are protected from bright sunlight which can cause the foliage to bleach and fade. Some varieties require you to grow male plants as well as females for berries to be produced. If you want to grow only one shrub, choose a self-fertile variety such as Skimmia reevesiana or Skimmia Fragrant Cloud, although even these will produce more fruit if a male is grown close by. Skimmia japonica Rubella is a good choice for a male partner, as it is the most attractive, with lovely dark red flower buds in winter. The most common Skimmia for the garden are Japanese Skimmia (Skimmia japonica). They prefer a neutral to acidic soil – use John Innes No 3 or ericaceous compost if growing in a container. Bear in mind that all parts of the plant are poisonous if ingested.