Bursts of colour in the gloom

December is such a busy month in our calendar as we prepare for Christmas and make lots of arrangements with friends and family. This is not the case for the garden though as this is one of the quietest months outside. There is, however, always some jobs to do and some colour to enjoy!
As you all know, this Autumn has been very mild and wet and whilst lawns have continued to grow, it is simply too wet to mow.
Despite the overall soggy brown look in the garden, colour is provided on even the dampest of days with bright coloured stems of Cornus, the dogwoods, in vibrant reds and the fiery orange of Cornus midwinter fire.
The variegated leaf shapes of evergreens also add garden interest, especially Pittosporums and Euonymus shrubs with a wide range of leaf colours. Berries on Cotoneaster and Pyracantha give glorious bursts of reds, greens, and yellows.

Invigorating morning exercise

The weather is now predicted to settle down and gardening on a dry, cold winter’s morning can be an invigorating exercise.
With the last of the leaves fallen from deciduous trees and now that shrubs and herbaceous plants have fully died back, the garden reverts to its skeleton, meaning it is a great time to plan for any changes you want to make. You can consider creating extra interest with a new focal point either with replanted borders, or a tree to create a shaded area for next summer.
If your garden seems flat you can add height and impact with some topiary like lolly-pop shaped standard Ilex (Holly), or Bay trees and Yew Pyramids which are all great for this. Alternatively, you can add garden obelisks or decorative plant support to display stunning climbing plants including Clematis, Jasmine or climbing roses.

Bay Tree                                                                 Ilex (Holly)            

Prepare for climate change

If conditions allow, dig over and prepare the soil for next year’s planting. You can significantly improve the quality of your soil by adding garden compost, soil improver and farmyard manure, as they contain the necessary nutrients.
As the climate and therefore weather conditions are changing, it is worth thinking about which plants will best cope with hot, dry summer conditions. Trees and shrubs will improve air quality and consider the use of ground cover plants as they will provide shade and help to retain moisture in the soil. Think about the wildlife in your garden and add plants to attract bees, butterflies and moths and other insects by providing flowering plants for a longer period.

Grow your own - for the best flavours

When you grow your own fruit and vegetables, you really appreciate the fresh flavours, compared with shop bought.
Now is a good time to plant soft fruit such as blackcurrants, red & white currants, and gooseberries.
If your space is limited, these can look great planted amongst other shrubs. You could also plant in a fruit tree, or a dwarf fruit tree if you are looking to use a larger tub or container. For inspiration, look at the seed stands, for ideas of which vegetables to sow and grow next year. Our horticulturalists always try to grow something different each year.

December is the month to...

• Move your containers of shrubs and winter bedding plants into a sheltered position to help protect roots from frost damage. You can also stand containers on pot feet to help with drainage.
• If you have space, build or buy a compost bin. The more organic matter you add to your soil, the better your plants will grow.

December Bloomers

Sarcococca has the common name of Christmas box and is an evergreen shrub with purple tinged stems, thin evergreen leaves interspersed with fluffy highly scented white flowers. It likes a moist soil in a shady position, with flowers appearing from December to February, followed by black berries in late summer, which self-seed easily.

Sarcococca (Christmas Box)

Helleborus Niger, or Christmas rose has beautiful white flowers above leathery green foliage. If you buy this in the garden centre, it will be in full bloom, however if you are growing it in the garden it will flower between December and February depending on the weather. To guarantee flowering for Christmas, you can pot these up in well-drained soil with organic matter and keep in a warm greenhouse.
Skimmia japonica rubella, a small evergreen shrub that thrives in lime-free, well-drained soil with added compost and produces clusters of pink buds, which open in spring to produce masses of white flowers. Rubella is a male variety of Skimmia and needs a female variety such as kew green or japonica temptation to produce bright red berries. Pieris is a wonderful plant for growing in shady sheltered acidic soil, with stunning red foliage in spring and white bell-shaped flowers.

Prunus kojo-no-mai (Ornamental Cherry)

Interesting Seasonals

Other interesting seasonal plants include the Helleborus Christmas Carol, which looks exotic at first sight, but is not and the impactful coloured leaves of Heucheras. Viburnum tinus is a small evergreen shrub, with buds opening in spring to produce clusters of white flowers. Evergreen Rhododendrons, Azaleas and Camelias are all spring flowering but provide rich evergreen foliage. They require shelter, light shade in acid soil or can be grown in a container with ericaceous compost. These look great planted with Pieris, Japanese acers and evergreen ferns.
A plant with an interesting, twisted stem structure is Prunus kojo-no-mai, an ornamental cherry with striking autumn colour and produces masses of white blossom in spring. This provides great visual impact planted in a container, underplanted with flowering spring bulbs.

Hail the Hollies!

Many cultivated varieties of holly have separate male and female plants. In this instance names don’t help us as Golden King is a female and Silver Queen, a male. JC van Tol is a self-pollinator with spineless green leaves and red fruit and produces small white flowers in spring, which are very attractive to bees. Some hollies have attractive variegated foliage such as Ilex altaclerensis, a female, also known as Lawsonia and produces reddish brown berries.

Create winter interest with hollies planted in containers by your front door, dress with Christmas decorations for a welcoming sight to your home. For added festivity you can decorate the base compost with pinecones collected from the woods.

Plant up outdoor containers

Our plant area currently has a large array of suitable plants for a decorative outdoor container. Choose from shrubs, Helleborus, Heucheras, Heathers, Conifers, evergreen ferns and grasses, violas, pansies, cyclamen, and ivies. An interesting foliage plant to cascade over the edge of your pot is Muehlenbeckia com Maori, a pretty, wiry vine, native to New Zealand.

Poinsettias - a history as colourful as the plant itself

As we spend more of our lives indoors, now is the time to think about Christmas houseplants. A classic is the Poinsettia, with a history as colourful as the plant itself, originating from Mexico and South Guatemala where it grows as a large shrub or a small tree. It was cultivated by the Aztecs for use in medicines and as dye and from the 17th century it was used by the Franciscan friars in Mexico for Christmas decorations.

Its name comes from Joel Robert Poinsett, a keen botanist, and US Minister for Mexico, who introduced the plant into the US in the 1820s. In the last 60 years it has become an intrinsic part of Christmas.
The bright colour comes from the Poinsettia’s leaves, also known as bracts, and as well as traditional red, they are also now available in pink, cream, white and variegated, while the actual flowers are the small yellow tufts in the middle.
Poinsettias need bright indirect light in a warm room with an even temperature so avoid placing near radiators or in a draughty position. To keep the compost moist, use tepid water to avoid root shock.

Grown for beauty - Cymbidium orchid

The Cymbidium orchid is one of the most popular and desirable orchids in the world, due to the beauty of its flowers. With grass like stems and stunning large flowers, it is one of the oldest cultivated orchids growing in China for thousands of years.
Most orchid species originate from the forests of the Himalayas, China, Japan, and Korea. The Cymbidium is one of the easiest indoor orchids to grow with flowers lasting for up to eight weeks.
Orchids flourish in a kitchen or bathroom with good light, and we recommend standing the pot on a saucer of damp pebbles for extra humidity. From June to late September orchids can be kept outside under a tree where they receive dappled sunlight. Add orchid fertiliser to water every two to three weeks.

    Cymbidium Orchid                                                  Phalaenopsis (Moth Orchid)

Arching spikes of flowers

Another very popular orchid is the Phalaenopsis, also known as the moth orchid, which is easy for beginners to grow.
Its flowers last two to three months and they repeat flowering virtually the whole year with arching spikes of pinks, creams, and white flowers. They are native to India, China, and Southeast China where they grow in trees, and this is why orchids are grown in clear pots so the light can reach the roots.

Schlumbergera Truncata for a wonderful Christmas Display

Christmas Cactus, Schlumbergera Truncata, is so called because it flowers from late November to late January and gives a wonderful Christmas display or makes an ideal gift. This is a forest cactus growing on trees in woodlands in the jungles of Southeast Brazil. It requires a well-lit spot with damp compost to produce stunning flowers in pink, white, or red shades.
Once it’s flowers open, don’t move the pot into a different position as this can cause the buds to drop. Other favourites include stunning Azaleas, large, flowered cyclamen, and the highly scented white flowers of Jasmine polyanthum.

For any plant related questions, remember the Van Hage team is always happy to help!
Wishing you all a happy and peaceful Christmas and New Year, and we look forward to the 2023 gardening year, when we will be helping you select the best plants and showing you how to grow the tastiest fruit and vegetables!

With Season’s greetings and best wishes,
The Van Hage Team