December can be a quiet month in the garden. With the autumn colour and foliage gone, everything is pared right back and it’s now the turn of the evergreen plants to add colour and structure to the garden, plants such as Mahonia, Photinia Red Robin, Skimmia, Fatsia, Pittosporum, Phormium, Sarcococca and Viburnum Tinus. There are also berry-producing plants which provide both winter interest and food for the birds, such as Holly, Pyracanthus with red, orange or yellow berries, Cotoneaster, Callicarpa with amazing purple berries, and Crataegus (hawthorn).

Bringing the outside in for Christmas

Any berried shrubs, evergreen leaves and seasonal flowers can be used in homemade Christmas decorations. Holly has been used in winter decorations since ancient times, the evergreen foliage signifying eternal life and the red berries, a splash of colour, were used during the winter solstice to celebrate the lengthening days and forthcoming Spring. In Roman times, holly was used during the winter festival dedicated to Saturn, the God of agriculture, so when you add holly to your Christmas wreath or garland, you’ll be following a time-honoured and very ancient tradition…!

Hollies are available in many varieties and in some of the cultivated ones the male and female flowers are produced on separate plants so two may be required.

Another good plant for Christmas berries, which only requires the one plant is Ilex Aquifolium ‘Pyramidalis’ or the variety ‘J.C. van Tol’.

Jobs for a fine, dry, December day – if we’re lucky!

Finish digging any empty beds and borders, especially on allotments, where you could think about a ‘no-dig’ regime where each year a layer of compost is added to the existing soil.

Group container plants together in a sheltered spot to protect them from the worst of the winter weather and stand containers on ‘pot feet’ for improved drainage.

It’s still important to check the watering, as rain does not always reach down to the compost because of the umbrella effect of all the foliage!

Keep bird feeders full and provide fresh water.

Prune roses by a third to prevent ‘wind rock’ and a further third can be pruned in late February/early March. Remove any dead and diseased branches, and any crossing branches, and prune older flowered shoots down to an outward- facing bud. Leave any faded flower heads of Hydrangeas until spring, as these provide frost protection to the swelling buds below.

It’s still a good time to plant trees and shrubs as believe it or not, the soil is still warm from the summer and although we have had plenty of Autumn rain during the last few weeks of November, it has been relatively dry since, so that’s good for digging the soil.

Prior to planting, apply a good layer of mulch round trees, shrubs and roses. Mulch can be well-rotted manure, garden compost or bags of soil improver which are available in the plant area. Remember the more you feed the soil, the more you indirectly feed your plants!

The ancient art of topiary…..

Topiary is an evergreen plant producing compact, good foliage and upright growth which is clipped and trained into various shapes. Typical topiary plants include Bay (Laurus nobilis), Yew (Taxus baccata), Holly, Ilex crenata and Box.

The art of topiary has been around since Roman times, and the term originates from the Latin word ‘toparus’ meaning ornamental landscape gardener. Topiary also dates back to China and Japan where ‘cloud pruning’, clipping trees and shrubs into cloud-like shapes, was popular. For a bit of impact by your front door, try planting up a container with a topiary plant, which can be made to look beautifully festive with the addition of some Christmas decorations and berries.

Christmas trees at Van Hage

Our trees are from UK-grown crops which are carefully managed and pruned to give the best possible shape. They are a sustainable crop absorbing carbon from the atmosphere and producing fresh oxygen and during their growing period provide shelter for wildlife. The Nordmann firs with their soft dark green foliage have good needle retention and the shape of their branches makes them easy to decorate. The Norway Spruce are the original Christmas trees, with a classic shape and highly scented needles, and will do best in a cool room to prevent needle drop. Cut trees generally should be treated as you would a cut flower, with plenty of frequent watering and a spot in a cool part of the room away from radiators and heaters.

 

 

When it’s cold and gloomy outside...

Houseplants really do lift the spirits indoors, whether grown for their beautiful flowers or interesting leaf shapes, there’s a plant to suit every room. To get the best from your houseplants over the winter, here are a few general tips:
Most important of all, don’t overwater your houseplants.

Give them a brightly lit position so they can make the most of any available light.
For plants that like high humidity, such as Maranta, Calathea and Orchids, you can improve humidity by standing the plants on a tray of damp gravel or pebbles. Just ensure the pot itself is not sitting IN the water but is just standing on TOP of the wet pebbles, which will help to increase the humidity in the air around the foliage.

Christmas Cacti, or Schlumbergera, were originally to be found in the tropical rainforests of South America and have spiny, flattened, slightly strange-looking stems which nonetheless produce beautiful, brightly coloured flowers in the winter months! Just provide a cool and dry resting period, don’t move the plant once the buds appear, and place outside to harden up a little in the summer months, for repeat flowering next winter!

Cyclamen, too, will need a cool spot: just take care not to overwater these. Even if the stems are drooping because the plant is dry, a good dunking in water will soon revive them, whereas once overwatered, the plant will struggle to regain its former glory. With a cool temperature, and a brightly lit spot, they can bloom for several months.

Amaryllis, or Hippeastrum, make a popular Chjristmas gift, with their large dramatic flowers. Grown from bulbs, they produce flowers, then leaves, that die down in the summer. Repot these in autumn for repeat flowering the following year. Top tip: Feeding with tomato feed will encourage future flowering!

Jasmine ‘Jasminum polyanthum’, is a climbing plant with pink buds opening into highly scented, white star-shaped flowers. These will do well in a cool room during the winter months.

The Christmas classic, Poinsettia, is native to Mexico and named after the US ambassador there, Joel Poinsett who brought them back with him to the United States in the 1820’s. Since then growers all over the world have developed the natural red bracts (which are actually coloured leaves) into the many colours we see today such as pink, white, cream, marbled and even orange, although of course red is still the most popular colour. Our UK growers provide healthy, sturdy, gorgeous poinsettias which with the right care, provide flowers for weeks if not months! They enjoy a bright spot out of draughts, in a warm room (Min. temp 13-16C). Water thoroughly, using tepid water, then allow the compost to dry out slightly before watering again, as overwatering may damage your beautiful Christmas plant.

Finally, there are so many fantastic flowering varieties of Orchids to choose from at this time of year that you will be spoilt for choice. The popular Phalaenoposis (Moth Orchid) likes a bright spot with a minimum winter temperature of 18C and will grow happily with temperatures up to 28C in the day, making it the perfect gift for an elderly person who loves to be in a warm room!

Wishing you all a happy and peaceful Christmas and New Year, and we look forward to the 2022 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