Plant a Christ­mas show

Get win­ter blooms in the ground now for a gor­geous gar­den – and am­ple flow­ers, fo­liage and berries to dec­o­rate the house dur­ing the fes­tive pe­riod, says Hazel Sil­lver

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ONE of the best jobs on Christ­mas morn­ing is to head out into the frost-sparkling gar­den on the hunt for flow­ers, berries and fo­liage that can be snipped to dec­o­rate the house and ta­ble. And the right plants will en­able you to cel­e­brate the colours and scents of the sea­son dur­ing the fes­tive pe­riod.

“Any­thing that flow­ers from the sec­ond week in De­cem­ber un­til the end of Jan­uary should find a place in ev­ery gar­den,” wrote the late plants­man EA Bowles. “Iris un­guic­u­laris is the best of all, and has of­ten given me a large bunch of flow­ers for Christ­mas.”

The scented pur­ple Al­ge­rian iris he was re­fer­ring to is one of the joys of win­ter. How­ever, it doesn’t al­ways flower in time for Christ­mas. The best en­cour­age­ment to have it per­form­ing on 25 De­cem­ber is a hot, dry sum­mer, so – fin­gers crossed! – this year we could be in luck.

The Christ­mas rose (Helle­borus

niger) pro­duces charm­ing white flow­ers from late De­cem­ber. You can en­sure there are am­ple for a gen­er­ous bunch by plant­ing one of the new early flow­er­ing cul­ti­vars, such as ‘HGC Ja­cob’ or ‘White Christ­mas’. Sim­i­larly, there are early flow­er­ing forms of snow­drop (in­clud­ing ‘J Haydn’, ‘Far­ing­don Dou­ble’, ‘Three Ships’ and ‘Castle­gar’), which will look adorable placed on the Christ­mas ta­ble in lit­tle glasses.

Flow­er­ing win­ter shrubs that can fill a vase on Christ­mas morn­ing in­clude ma­ho­nia, Christ­mas box and some va­ri­eties of Camel­lia sasan­qua – all of which are ev­er­green and boast scented flow­ers. Win­ter­sweet and Vibur­num x

bod­nan­tense – de­cid­u­ous shrubs with per­fumed blooms on bare stems – will also do the job.

The aro­matic fo­liage of rose­mary and conifers (such as ju­niper or thuja), as well as ivy and berry-laden sprigs of holly, will add a clas­sic fes­tive flavour to the house. Com­bine with yel­low ev­er­greens (try Abies nord­man­ni­ana

‘Golden Spreader’) for a touch of gold, or hunt out seed­heads that you can spray gold or sil­ver – the moon-white discs of hon­esty work par­tic­u­larly well.

All th­ese plants can be bought in con­tain­ers and, if put in the ground now, will fill both house and gar­den with blooms and scent over the hol­i­day pe­riod.

You can also spread sea­sonal cheer by forc­ing the likes of pa­per­whites to flower in­doors in time for the big day (oth­ers may be bought ready forced). Or try a ‘Christ­massy’ house­plant like a poin­set­tia. Just think of them as the per­fect gift to your­self.

A white Christ­mas is guar­an­teed with Helle­borus niger. Sur­round with plants that sup­ply flow­ers, fo­liage and berries in shades of white, green, red and sil­ver and you’ll en­hance the fes­tive feel

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