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December 2011

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Christmas rose, rhododendron, celastrus and tropaeolum

There are so many winter flowering plants to light up a dull December day, daphne near the back door, underplanted with snowdrops and crocus and backed by a clipped standard ‘Golden King' holly, which is pruned now and the cuttings are used for decoration in the house. The leaves of Helleborus orientalis have all been removed, and some liquid feed applied to encourage larger flowers. The leaves of the Christmas rose, Helleborus niger , have also been removed, their first flowering has already commenced. When left alone, these will thrive in a leafy compost in a semi-shaded site with free-draining soil. 

South Dec

Stem colour and textures of trees and shrubs can be a highlight on a sunny December day. I have grouped a collection of these which can be viewed from the house. The tallest plant is Rhododendron barbatum, its bark shining like a polished mahogany table, and it flowers mid-March with deep red flowers. I have a large stand of Cornus ‘Midwinter Fire' surrounding Rhododendron thomsonii, which also has good stem colour, and the marbled leaves of seedlings of Arum italicum ‘Marmoratum' popping up everywhere. Birch Trees look great if planted with a backdrop to dark leaved shrubs, such as Rhododendron ‘Cunningham's White' or Viburnum tinus.
Lonicera fragrantissima is a lax shrub with peeling sandy coloured bark, I love its sweet scent on a cold day. An easy fern Blechnum chilense which enjoys the shade under Arbutus unedo along with a mix of dwarf daffodils.


Danae racemosa is an underrated shrub, it appears like a dwarf bamboo approximately 65cm high with long glossy evergreen leaves on arching branches, it looks great in a pot or can be planted as a contrast to ericas and bergenias. I have replaced Euryops pectinatus in a sunny site, - this long-flowering yellow shrub thrives in poor dry soil as does the winter iris, Iris unguicularis, which is so easy in the same conditions and superb for cutting in a tiny vase.

A seldom grown climber, Celastrus orbiculatus is a vigorous plant, ideal for scrambling over a small tree. Alas, it has dull green leaves during summer but it comes into its own now producing yellow berries which break open to display orange seeds.

It's a pleasant sight to see the garden rest for winter, it appears nothing is happening, but underground be prepared to be surprised. Through the heavy leaf fall, which most tidy gardeners and landscapers dispose of, many spring bulbs and Herbaceous plants are popping through. Certain leaves will rot much quicker. Oak and beech are best for compost but all kinds help to produce fertile soil.

This is the season for planting bare root shrubs. A good screen consisting of holly, guilder rose, Berberis darwinii, Rosa rugosa and spindle bush will look great in our field in winter time. I have also planted another area for summer interest which has a mix of variegated myrtus, Hypericum ‘Hidcote', philadelphus, yellow Kerria japonica and ‘Paul's Himalayan Musk' rose scrambling through. Birds have dropped seeds of Scottish flame flower, Tropaeolum speciosum, at the base of a silver birch, and in its first year the tropaeolum grew to two meteres high. What a sight after the flowers finish and the purple berries look remarkable against the birch on a sunny day.

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