Talk of the Month

Cancelled

Whats On in December

STAYING AT HOME – (again!) and anyway, we’re too busy preparing for Christmas!

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.

Christmas greenery, straight from the garden

What could be more lovely than stepping out on a cold and frosty morning to pick home-grown Christmas greenery, straight from the garden? Graham Rice offers some expert plant suggestions.

It used to be that the only option for holiday greenery in the home was the Christmas tree, along with holly and ivy. Now everything’s changed, and very definitely for the better.

Today an increasing range of attractive evergreen alternatives for decorative foliage is available to use in wreaths, in table decorations and in long-lasting seasonal arrangements. And the great thing about so many of these alternatives is that you can grow them yourself at home. Here are ten options.

Numbers at the end of each entry refer to plant height and RHS hardiness rating.

Source: https://www.rhs.org.uk/plants/articles/graham-rice/shrubs-and-climbers/grow-your-own-christmas-greenery

Winter heathers

More lime-tolerant than other heathers, winter heathers come in a range of foliage colours and with reddish, pink or white flowers. There are more varieties of Erica carnea, but E. × darleyensis is taller, with longer stems that intertwine better into wreaths. ‘White Perfection’ AGM has clusters of white winter flowers like the first snowflakes. 45cm (18in), H5.

Sharply shaped

Each individual dark green leaf of Euonymus fortunei ‘Wolong Ghost’ AGM is shaped like a dagger and features a ghostly white band along the midrib with spidery white veins. Carried on extending shoots which make good ground cover, ‘Wolong Ghost’ will also climb, clinging by aerial roots. The long branches are ideal to weave into wreaths. 30cm (12in), H5.

Edged in gold

The densely packed, upright growth of Euonymus japonicus ‘Ovatus Aureus’ AGM is a rich and shining green with the edge of every glossy leaf irregularly coloured in gold, brightest on the younger growth. Plant in a sunny situation to promote the best colour. Not the most vigorous, but creates sunny sparks in Christmas wreaths. 1.2m (4ft), H5.

Fresh and bright

The rounded foliage of Griselinia littoralis AGM has such a clean and shining look, noticeably paler and glossier than holly with its deep green colouring, that blending the two is a very effective approach. 3m (10ft), H5. ‘Variegata’ AGM features the addition of creamy or pale yellowish margins to the foliage although the plants are less vigorous and slightly less hardy, growing to 1.8m (6ft), H4.

Colourful ivy

You might have pulled some wild ivy from a fence or a tree trunk to help fill out your Christmas greenery, and it works well. But, like wild holly, the leaves are very dark. Variegated kinds, such as Hedera helix ‘Ceridwen’ AGM with its bold, three pointed leaves with bright yellow margins are far more colourful. Sometimes even the whole leaf is bright yellow. 2m (6½ft), H5.

Winter blues

The blue needles of this dwarf form of the Colorado spruce (Picea pungens (Glauca Group) ‘Hoopsii’) AGM make a bright, refreshing change from darker shades, bringing a lift of light to wreaths and table centrepieces. Avoid the dense dwarf varieties such as ‘Globosa’; they just don’t produce enough growth, and don’t expect your ‘Hoopsii’ to look elegant if you cut off branches every Christmas so plant in an out-of-the-way spot. 2.5m (8ft), H7.

Holly with a difference

The few holly varieties without spines are often recommended, for obvious reasons, but Ilex aquifolium ‘Ferox Argentea’ AGM goes the other way. Exceptionally spiny, even with spines growing out of the blades of the leaves, ‘Ferox Argentea’ has purple stems, creamy edges to the leaves and a mass of spines. Intriguing and effective, but no berries. Height up to 8m (26ft), but can be pruned to keep it much smaller. H6.

White Christmas pine

Planting a pine for Christmas greenery may be a surprising idea, but one with such beautiful long needles – reaching 15cm (6in) in length – is a very useful addition to our palette of seasonal decorations. The Weymouth or white pine, Pinus strobus, grows strongly (though it dislikes limy soil). Cutting boughs for Christmas is not going to improve its shape so choose its planting site carefully. 5m (16ft), H7.

Silver charmer

The combination of small, neat foliage, splashed with cream and held on slender but stiff shoots, plus a tolerance of pruning, makes Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Irene Paterson’ AGM an ideal shrub for garden use and for cutting for indoors. Its vigour held in check by this regular pruning, at this time of year the foliage often develops a pink tinge. 2.5m (8ft), H3.

Longest lasting evergreen

Ruscus aculeatus, butcher’s broom, is probably the evergreen that lasts longest when cut and still looks good, even without water, weeks after cutting. The variety ‘John Redmond’ AGM has the bonus of producing bright red berries and, unlike most other forms, without the need of an additional male plant. It’s also tough, resilient and will grow in dry shade. 75cm (30in), H5.

Did you know?

Poinsettia

Poinsettias are part of the Euphorbiaceae or Spurge family. Botanically, the plant is known as Euphorbia pulcherrima. The showy coloured parts of Poinsettias are actually coloured bracts (modified leaves), not flowers. The yellow flowers, or cyathia, are in the centre of the colourful bracts. The plant drops its bracts and leaves soon after those flowers shed their pollen. For the longest-lasting Poinsettias, choose plants with little or no yellow pollen showing.
The colours of the bracts are created through “photoperiodism”, meaning that they require darkness (12 hours at a time for at least five days in a row) to change colour. On the other hand, once Poinsettias finish that process, the plants require abundant light during the day for the brightest colour.

– Poinsettias received their name in the United States in honour of Joel Roberts Poinsett, who introduced the plant into the country in 1828. Poinsett was a botanist, physician and the first United States Ambassador to Mexico. He sent cuttings of the plant he had discovered in Southern Mexico to his home in Charleston, South Carolina. Even though Poinsett had an outstanding career as a United States Congressman and as an ambassador he will always be remembered for introducing the Poinsettia into the United States.
– Poinsettias are native to Mexico, where they can grow 10-15 feet tall. They are found in the wild in deciduous tropical forests at moderate elevations from southern Sinaloa down the entire Pacific coast of Mexico to Chiapas and Guatemala. They are also found in the interior of Mexico in the hot, seasonally dry forests of Gurerro and Oxaca.
– The Aztecs used the Poinsettia bracts to make a reddish purple dye for fabrics, and used the sap medicinally to control fevers.
– Poinsettias are not poisonous but many plants in the Euphorbiaceae family ooze a milky sap and some people with latex allergies have had a skin reaction (most likely to the sap) after touching the leaves. For pets, the Poinsettia sap may cause mild irritation or nausea. Probably best to keep pets away from the plant, especially puppies and kittens.

Source: University of Illinois Extension – The Poinsettia pages http://urbanext.illinois.edu/poinsettia/history.cfm

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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.

Source: https://www.atouchofthewild.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Winter-Garden-Wildlife-Spotter.png

Merry Christmas!

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