Euonymus japonicus: evergreen spindle, Japanese spindle
On days like these, when we’d all rather be indoors, wrapped in a blanket with a glass of something red, those of us with seaside gardens are grateful for a small but indispensable cohort of tough shrubs capable of creating shelter quickly and reliably. They include tamarisk (Tamarix tetranda AGM, less good on the shallow chalk we have in Broadstairs), broadleaf (irrepressible Griselinia littoralis AGM), oleaster (elegant Elaeagnus ‘Quicksilver’ or bullet-proof Elaeagnus × ebbingei) and today’s subject, Euonymus japonicus.
Planted correctly, protected by a temporary wind-filtering screen of fine polypropylene mesh and a good thick mulch to ward off dehydration, these salt tolerant shrubs will take the brunt of winter gales, eventually helping more tender treasures to weather the storm. In common with other front-line shrubs, Euonymus japonicus has a thick, glossy, protective surface on its evergreen leaves which keeps the shrub looking fresh and healthy all year round. In hot dry summers powdery mildew can temporarily blight the foliage, but this soon disappears in cooler conditions. Avoid pruning in high summer to minimise the cosmetic damage to soft new growth. Scale insects and vine weevils can also be troublesome.
The deep green leaves of Euonymus japonicus are an excellent foil for more exciting shrubs and perennials, but if colour is what you are after E. japonicus ‘Ovatus Aureus’ AGM is a popular green and gold form which makes a rounded shrub up to 1.5 metres in height. Like the species it’s easily trimmed to make a hedge. Watch out for plain green suckers which will quickly take over if not pruned out promptly. Euonymus japonicus ‘Chollipo’ AGM, ‘Bravo’ and ‘Duc D’Anjou’ are good alternative forms if you are seeking gold highlights, whilst E. japonicus ‘Albomarginatus’ and ‘President Gaulthier’ have green leaves margined and marbled with white.
The spring flowers of Euonymus japonicus are easily overlooked but the orange fruits emerging from their rosy pink casings are a wintertime treat. Best pruned in April, you should avoid removing stems with fading flowers if you’d like a good display later on. 2015 was a vintage year for spindle berries: I photographed those below today on the cliff top at Louisa Bay, Broadstairs.
Even if you consider Euonymus japonicus a necessary evil or coastal cliché, you can’t deny its usefulness in harsh conditions. Few other shrubs will take a battering so nonchalantly. A plant for all seasons Euonymus japonicus will flourish on chalk, excel in exposed gardens and reward with dense, lustrous foliage 365 days a year.