Talk of the Month
No meeting in December – we’re too busy preparing for Christmas!
What’s On in December
Lots of sparkly treats for the family are on offer in December and they’re not too far away.
Forde Abbey has a Christmas illuminated walk from 15th-22nd December.
Christmas at Forde Abbey is a magical time of year, and this December they invite you to share in the joy and wonder of the season with an enchanting trail around the gardens.
After dark, and with even more sparkle than before, they’ll be lighting the long borders, illuminating the champion trees and casting a magical shine over the house – Forde Abbey as you’ve never seen it before.
Inside the house, there’ll be festive cheer, the perfect time of year to gather around and enjoy the warmth of an open hearth.
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Killerton House, near Exeter, is a National Trust property and every year it offers special events for all the family over the Christmas period. This year, from Saturday, 23rd November to Sunday, 5th January there is a ‘Night before Christmas trail’. Wrap up warm and follow the illuminated Christmas trail through the garden and parkland. Challenge your family and friends on the themed games whilst following the twinkling lights of the trail.
What to do in the garden this month
- Plant bare root roses in well-prepared soil.
- Harvest holly with berries for making Christmas decorations; stand them in a bucket of water until you are ready to use them.
- Improve soil by incorporating compost.
- Lift and divide large clumps of rhubarb.
- Take hardwood cuttings from healthy fruit bushes, including currants and gooseberries.
- Transplant shrubs and conifers that have outgrown their position.
- Ornamental grasses and bamboos can be cut back this month.
- Raise patio containers onto feet or bricks to avoid them sitting in the wet during winter.
- Leave the faded flower heads on your hydrangeas until the spring as they provide frost protection to the swelling buds further down the stems.
- Protect your Poinsettias from cold draughts and allow them to dry out slightly between watering to make them last for the whole Christmas period.
- Wash and disinfect bird feeders and bird tables. Clean out bird baths too.
Did you know?
Viburnums are an essential shrub for the winter garden, giving much needed scent and flower when there is little else. They are evergreen or deciduous shrubs, with approximately 150 – 175 species, and are native to mountainous regions in South America, the Atlas Mountains and the temperate northern hemisphere. The deciduous species tend to come from cool temperate regions and the evergreens from warmer areas. They are fully hardy and easy to care for, being virtually maintenance free, if they are planted in the correct position. Their fragrant flowers in cream, pink or white appear in clusters over winter and spring. Many of them have poisonous berries, which can be red, blue or black berries, so bear this in mind if you have small children. They are a good plant to incorporate in a mixed or a wildlife hedge as the birds love the berries.
One of the most popular Viburnums is Viburnum tinus, whose appeal is longstanding, with early depictions of the plant present in the ruins of Pompeii.
Viburnum tinus has long been prized in cultivation. Centuries before the plant hunters discovered the glories of wintersweet, hamamelis and mahonia, it was the major winter-flowering shrub. It has been valued for its striking, bright pink buds, massed white flowers and long blooming season. The English name, laurustinus, perpetuates early confusion as to its true identity. It combines the old Latin name tinus noted by the Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder and its erroneous association with laurus, the bay.
It was believed that both were related. Early records of its cultivation appear on flaky wall paintings in Pompeii but the origins of its establishment in Britain remain somewhat obscure. Horticulturist and author John Claudius Loudon noted that from 1596 to the end of the century, 46 new plant species were introduced into Britain, including laurustinus. It is certain that the merit of the cultivation of the greater part of them lies with the great gardener and herbalist, John Gerard. Gardener John Hatton noted that “From his South Lambeth Nursery, John Tradescant the Younger supplied trees and shrubs including Sweetleafed Mapel & the large leaved Laurustinus”. By the close of the eighteenth century, the different forms cultivated in Britain before 1597 had become six cultivars “and other trifling varieties”, gaining many admirers.
“The Laurus-Tinus… is all the Winter, the most beautifullest Plant of any in the Garden. Also Hedges of this Plant is wonderful fine, if their beauty is not destroyed by the unskilful Hand of the Gardner, in clipping them at the same Season he does the Yews, Hollies etc,” cautioned Batty Langley in New Principles of Gardening in 1728. William Marshall, in Planting and Ornamental Gardening (1785) commended laurustinus for its ability to bloom in even the harshest winter conditions. In spite of all the weather that may happen; and the boldness of these buds, at a time when other flowers shrink under oppressive cold, is a matter of wonder and pleasure,” he wrote.
Tolerating urban pollution better than many plants (as its use in urban plantings still attests), Loudon again suggested it might be used “for varying the iron palisades, pales or brick walls, which separate the front gardens of street and suburban houses”.
This rare combination of robustness, beauty and winter flowering moved poet James Montgomery (1771-1854) to an outpouring of sentiment. “Fair tree of winter! Fresh and flowering when all around is dead and dry. Whose ruby buds, though storms are louring, Spread their white blossoms to the sky.”
Despite competition from others, Viburnum tinus remains one of winter’s great delights.
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At Christmas time we sing about ‘the holly and the ivy’ but what do you know about them? Here are a few interesting facts:
Ivy (its official name is ‘Hedera helix’) is a woody, evergreen climber that grows up walls, fences and trees using tiny roots to cling to walls and buildings; in woods it can also carpet the ground. It has glossy, green leaves. It is a valuable plant for insects filling up on nectar before hibernating and for many birds, such as blackbirds and thrushes. Ivy berries ripen in winter, when most other berries have already been eaten.
It grows in any soil and tolerates both deep shade and full sun. However, only shoots in the sun produce flowers. It is poisonous to humans.
Holly (its official name is ‘Ilex aquifolium’) is an excellent evergreen shrub for a wildlife garden. It has tough, prickly, glossy, dark green leaves and can grow into a relatively tall tree.
Male and female flowers are on separate shrubs; for a female shrub to produce berries, it must be pollinated by a male growing nearby. Holly appears frequently in folklore and is commonly associated with Christmas.
It grows in any soil and copes well with full sun or shade.
Some of the creatures that benefit from the Holly tree:
- Bees and bumblebees collect its nectar and pollen.
- Caterpillars of the holly blue butterfly eat its buds and flowers.
- Many birds, such as thrushes, robins, dunnocks, finches and goldcrests, use it for nesting as it provides excellent protection.
- Blackbirds, fieldfares, redwings, mistle and song thrushes, among others, eat the berries.
- Hedgehogs, small mammals, toads and slow worms hibernate in the deep leaf litter that builds up beneath it.
Gardens are full of wildlife at all times of the year, even when the weather is cold. Keep an eye on your garden this winter, and see if you can spot any wildlife with this handy worksheet from the Wildlife Trust.