Okay, so if you’re wondering what to do in the garden at Christmas, here are our 12 tips to make the festive season special and absolutely none of them involve queueing, alcohol or recipes for vegan sausage meat.
1. Bring your garden birds close up. Hang your bird feeders right up against your kitchen window; your reward will be thrilling close up views of all sorts of tits and finches and maybe even a nuthatch or, on red letter days, a spotted woodpecker. To make them safe from the swooping sparrowhawks place a protective shield of bamboo canes around the feeder. I accept that blue tits are part of nature’s pyramid of numbers but actually I’d rather not witness the evidence whilst I am washing up. We also have a night shift of charming little wood mice with prehensile tails…
2. Cheat with winter stems. The accepted wisdom is to plant winter stems against an evergreen backdrop where they can be lit by the low winter sun, preferably beside a lake – great if you live at Chatsworth…. so cheat, by cutting coloured dogwood or willow stems and pushing them in around the other plants in sunny winter pots. They remain perky and actually increase in colour and vibrancy as the winter progresses, starting to root as spring approaches.
3. Never buy more than one Sarcococca (Christmas box) plant. These charming evergreen,winter flowering shrubs (there are several different species, all good) seed so freely that you can just dig up young plants from around their base and establish them in any little dark corner or pathway where their scent will catch you unawares on mild winter mornings. Cut a tiny sprig to scent an entire guest bedroom.
(Louise also knows how evergreen foliage can lift a garden in winter and has a great euphorbia has her plant of the moment).
4. Keep your pots of hyacinths outside. Who ever thought that bringing a naturally hardy bulbous plant indoors to flower was a good idea? Keeping them in your outdoor porch or on a sunny outdoor table will keep them pert and sturdy, with none of that gangly flopping held up with props and string, and they will last twice as long. You can always bring them in and pop them on the table for that special meal.
Now, for once, Laura has given you some REALLY USEFUL ideas, instead of her usual science-y head-in-the-clouds stuff. Let me add a few more to her list of tips :
5. Ship in your Christmas roses. They’re lovely but they’re not roses, and they don’t flower at Christmas. It’s a hellebore, Helleborus niger, in fact. And in my experience, the only time you will get them to flower in late December rather than January is if you buy them ready-primed from a garden centre.
You should find stacks of them there, all raring to display their enchanting snow-white flowers while the turkey’s on the table (or at least the leftovers). Then you’ll plant them out in the garden to flower at their normal (later) time next year.
6. Have a tidy up. If your garden is anything like mine, this is a messy old time of year. Some plants may have pretty seedheads but others are looking soggy and straggly with all their summer glory dissipated. So just try to sharpen up the edges of the garden a little. Sweep the paths and keep the evergreen shrubs neatly cut or even topiarised. Honestly, it’s extraordinary how much a whip-smart box hedge will pardon a dank pile of drifted leaves.
7. Give people plants for Christmas. Our son and daughter-in-law are planning a new little town garden at the moment, so horticultural gifts are on my mind. I would personally steer clear of Amorphophallus titanium which looks like it sounds (!), only flowers once every 10 to 20 years, and honks of decomposing meat, however – they would certainly remember who gave them that.
8. Make your own festive little ‘tree‘. Dig out one of those tripod-arrangements for growing dwarf climbers in a pot or even tomatoes. Then use it as a framework for fairy-lights wound round the uprights, baubles, ribbon.. whatever you like, inside or outside. An almost infinitely adaptable tip, this. You could even make a tripod of simple canes, sprayed silver or gold, though gold bamboo canes might look a little odd when you are growing your beans up them next spring.
Or you could follow my example and just not bother. I know what my tomato tripod would look like after I’d sprayed it with glitter – think less Kirsty Allsop and more Little Miss Messy. No folks, just buy everything, it may not be fashionable right now, but it’s all bio-degradable.
9. My first recommendation is a holly tree COMPLETE with BERRIES that grows in a pot for my doorstep – £12 delivered from GardeningExpress. Hopefully my guests will assume I propagated this myself (Santa will still love me, won’t he?) and after the festives I’m planning on having a go at topiarising it. I saw a marvellous one at Broadwoodside Garden in East Lothian in the summer and vowed to have a bash.
10. Invest in an amaryllis. Is Christmas really Christmas without the drama of a blood red
amaryllis on your white linen tablecloth? It raises the game and prohibits anyone from wearing their paper hats or blowing a kazoo in your face – imagine Angelina Jolie in the middle of a Bingo Hall. If, like me, you didn’t get round to buying the bulbs in October……whisper this bit……you can get them on the point of flowering right now from Dobbies.
11.Keep the mistletoe looking sprightly. I’m surprised Elaine didn’t mention mistletoe. Normally she loves to tell you how it grows naturally in her garden in France, blah blah. To be fair, plastic mistletoe is a bit too naff even for me,
so the purse must come out again but remember the real thing dries out quite quickly so pick a cool spot for it; an unheated porch is ideal. Drooping and shrivelled doesn’t embody the message that mistletoe is meant to convey.
12. Finally if you’ve been an awfully good girl/boy, remember to write your note to Santa asking him to hurry down the chimney with something from Sarah Raven or Crocus, but best to leave it lying around conspicuously for several days before sending it off to Lapland.