Raid the gar­den

These ex­cit­ing plants of­fer up some win­ter magic to raise the spir­its for Christ­mas. Louise Cur­ley picks her top 10

Garden Answers (UK) - - Contents -

The av­er­age gar­den can yield a sur­pris­ing amount of boughs and berries to make rus­tic, nat­u­ral Christ­mas dec­o­ra­tions. Gather blooms from those valiant late-sum­mer sur­vivors (di­anthus, roses, gera­ni­ums) and win­ter-flow­er­ing shrubs just com­ing into their own to make a sim­ple fra­grant posy – no flower ar­rang­ing skills re­quired. Add in a few in­ter­est­ing seed­heads and faded flow­ers – these can be used in their nat­u­ral state, or given a fes­tive sparkle with gold or sil­ver spray paint. Seek out ever­green fo­liage – glossy dark green leaves al­ways look good in gar­lands and wreaths. Or, for some­thing dif­fer­ent, try sil­very, white-var­ie­gated plants such as eu­ony­mus ‘Emer­ald Gai­ety’ or holly ‘Sil­ver Queen’ to bring a frosty touch to dec­o­ra­tions. As a fi­nal flour­ish, raid your herb patch for fra­grant ever­green leaves such as sage, rose­mary and thyme. Here we’ve picked our favourite gar­den stal­warts to bring into the house for a fes­tive touch that should last for weeks.

1 ROSE­MARY

The ever­green aro­matic leaves of rose­mary look fab­u­lous in Christ­mas ta­ble dec­o­ra­tions, where their fra­grance per­me­ates the air. Pop stems in small jars with flow­ers, or place a sin­gle stem on a nap­kin. Or, fix dou­ble-sided sticky tape onto a tealight holder (such as a glass jar) and press on some sprigs of rose­mary. The warmth from the can­dle will re­lease the aroma from the leaves.

2 LON­ICERA PURPUSII ‘WIN­TER BEAUTY’

Although this de­cid­u­ous bushy shrub can look a tad un­kempt at times, this is eas­ily for­given when you catch a waft of the in­tox­i­cat­ing honey­suckle-scented flow­ers. These del­i­cate white blooms open in mild weather be­tween No­vem­ber and March – they’re great lit­tle food sta­tions for bees lured out of hi­ber­na­tion. To en­joy the flow­ers in­doors sim­ply cut a hand­ful of stems and pop them in a tall vase. They’re easy to grow as long as the ground is well drained. H and S 1.5-2.5m (5-8ft)

3 CO­RY­LUS AVEL­LANA ‘CON­TORTA’

In win­ter twisted hazel looks like it has sprung straight out of a fairy tale, with its gnarly net­work of bare branches. Cut the stems to add to vase ar­range­ments or use a branch as an al­ter­na­tive to a Christ­mas tree and dan­gle tiny glass baubles from its stems. Wedge it into a heavy con­tainer with tightly scrunched-up news­pa­per, cover the pot with hes­sian and se­cure in place with twine. If plant­ing one out­doors, hazels pre­fer neu­tral to al­ka­line soil, and a spot in full sun or part shade. H and S 2.5-4m (8-13ft)

4 HOLLY

Holly has been used as win­ter dec­o­ra­tion since pa­gan times. Prized for its glossy ever­green leaves and vivid red berries when lit­tle else is grow­ing, there’s a va­ri­ety of yel­low or creamy-white var­ie­gated fo­liage, berries in red, or­ange or yel­low and leaves with prick­les or with­out. For berries you’ll need a fe­male holly with a male nearby, but the name doesn’t in­di­cate gen­der – ‘Golden King’ for in­stance is a fe­male berry-bearer. If you only have space for one, go for self-fer­tile ‘JC van Tol’. For dec­o­ra­tions, cut holly branches and wire into wreaths and gar­lands; shorter sprigs can be placed be­hind pic­ture frames. Or, wire sev­eral stems to­gether, wrap rib­bon round the wire and hang from the back of din­ing chairs. H10-25m (33-82ft) S4-8m (13-26ft)

5 SARCOCOCCA

This un­der­rated ever­green is a must for the win­ter gar­den. Not only does it have glossy, dark green leaves, but also its tiny white flow­ers emit a heady per­fume through­out the win­ter months. Plant one near an en­trance so you can ap­pre­ci­ate it to the full, and so you can eas­ily pop out to snip a few stems for a vase in­doors. Look for a cul­ti­var called ‘Pur­ple Stem’, which has more colour­ful branches. Plant in sun or shade; it’s un­fussy about soil. H1-2m (3ft 3in6½ft) S1m (3ft 3in)

6 MALUS ‘EVERESTE’

The glis­ten­ing jewel-like fruits of crab ap­ples are like na­ture’s very own baubles. Wire them into wreaths, dot them about the din­ing ta­ble or dan­gle them from the bare branches of stems of con­torted hazel. To make sure you have crab ap­ples still left on the tree in De­cem­ber, plant a cul­ti­var that holds onto them for as long as pos­si­ble, such as ‘Evereste’. Its miniature ap­ples are a colour­ful mix of red, or­ange and yel­low that pos­i­tively glow in the win­ter gloom. A good tree for small gar­dens, it will grow in most soils. H and S 4-8m (13-26ft)

7 COR­NUS

Shrubby dog­woods, such as Cor­nus san­guinea, C. alba and C. sericea, are pri­mar­ily grown for their vi­brant win­ter stems in red, or­ange, yel­low, pur­ple and black (see p30). They’re easy plants to grow and can be kept to a man­age­able size with prun­ing, which also en­cour­ages colour­ful new growth. Re­move one-third of stems at the base in win­ter and use these prun­ings in vase ar­range­ments, or care­fully bend and weave the stems to­gether to make wreaths. It’s un­fussy about soil con­di­tions but plant in full sun for best stem colour. H and S3-8m (10-26ft)

HELLE­BORUS 8 NIGER

The pure white flow­ers of the Christ­mas rose, set against the back­drop of dark green leath­ery leaves, are a wel­come sight at this time of year. Buy plants at the gar­den cen­tre now and bring in­side on Christ­mas Eve. Place in a pretty bowl and dis­guise the soil with moss or small pine cones. Use as a ta­ble cen­tre­piece and then plant out into the gar­den once the fes­tiv­i­ties are over. Needs neu­tral to al­ka­line soil that’s moist but well-drained. H and S50cm (20in)

VIBURNUM 10 BODNANTENSE ‘DEBEN’

An­other fra­grant win­ter-flow­er­ing shrub that pro­vides rich win­ter pick­ings for a vase. This cul­ti­var is a white al­ter­na­tive to the more widely-grown, pink-flow­er­ing ‘Dawn’. Clus­ters of al­mond-per­fumed blooms emerge from pink buds dot­ted along bare brown stems be­tween No­vem­ber and March. Com­bine in a vase with sil­ver-var­ie­gated fo­liage for an el­e­gant Christ­mas dis­play. Grow in sun or part shade in moist well-drained soil. H1.5-2.5m (5-8ft) S1-1.5m (3ft 3in-5ft)

9 HEDERA HELIX

Ivy is an­other Christ­mas clas­sic that’s easy to grow in most soils in sun or shade. The long trail­ing stems are per­fect for drap­ing over the top of tall book­cases or dressers, or weave them around the ban­is­ters of a stair­case. Ma­ture plants pro­duce at­trac­tive black berries that make a shiny ad­di­tion to wreaths. Choose from ram­pant clim­bers or more com­pact cul­ti­vars, plain green fo­liage or pretty var­ie­ga­tions – sil­very ones such as ‘Glacier’ work well in Christ­mas dec­o­ra­tions. Look for more un­usual leaf shapes too, such as ‘Ivalace’ and ‘Pars­ley Crested’. H8m (26ft) S4m (13ft)

dis­likes sit­ting in wet soil, so add plenty of grit to the plant­ing hole, or grow in a large con­tainer. Look for ‘Miss Jes­sopp’s Up­right’ or ‘Green Gin­ger’ with its warm spicy fra­grance. H and S1.5-2.5m (5-8ft)

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