The whims of gardeners are such that when a plant is recognized as both attractive and dependable and it becomes widely planted, after a spell in the spotlight its very ubiquity then sparks disdain. Such was the fate of the spotted laurel.
First introduced into the west from Japan as long ago as 1783, it was indeed the spotted form, ‘Variegata’, that we first grew and which first received an award - a First Class Certificate, no less - from the Royal Horticultural Society in 1865. ‘Variegata’, ‘Grandis’, with large plain green leaves, and the more slender-leaved ‘Lancifolia’, became staple plantings for many decades before the tide turned; until recently they were being torn out of shrub borders, mixed borders, informal hedges, windbreaks and soundscreens - “boring” had become the sad conclusion. But it was no accident that in dry shady places they outlasted their neighbors, outlasted them by so long that they became scorned.
All forms are excellent dry shade plants for zone 6 and above. In the darkest and driest places those with broad, plain green leaves will be more successful than those with narrow or heavily speckled foliage but all are good. Plants are male or female so you need both for berries on the females.
Use them along boundaries as a background to smaller shrubs, perennials and bulbs; they’re ideal shrubs to soften corners in town gardens; aucubas also make fine large foundation plants for the north side of the house and even in dry shade are sufficiently dense and heavy-leafed to help buffer noise from roads and neighbors.
The names are in quite a muddle but in addition to ‘Variegata’, often said to be bettered by the similar ‘Gold Dust’, look for ‘Rozannie’. No speckles, but the fruits will develop without the need of a male companion.
Any other dry shade recommendations?