Well, winter seems to have hit with a vengeance! Heavy frosts and, in some places snow, will have finished off any annuals and tender plants, but there are still plants in the garden providing colour and interest.
Floral & Hardy’s Top Ten Plants for December are :
Acer griseum –
Paper Bark Maple – a slow-growing tree, grown, as the name suggests, mainly for its attractive, cinnamon-coloured, peeling bark, but the deeply-cut leaves also provide a wonderful autumn display of reds and oranges.
Arbutus unedo –
If you want something out of the ordinary, this large evergreen is a bit of fun, with edible strawberry-like fruits late autumn to winter, at the same time as the white, pendant flowers.
Clematis cirrhosa ‘Freckles’ –
An evergreen climber with attractive foliage and masses of creamy bell-shaped flowers spotted with red from late autumn to early spring.
Gaultheria mucronata –
One of the finest berrying shrubs with large, porcelain-like, white, pink, red or purple fruits throughout the winter. Only thing is, you need acid soil and both sexes of the plant for this shrub to flourish, it’s a bit prickly though so be careful when handling.
Hamamelis mollis –
Witch Hazel – a really valuable large shrub or small tree, with oval bright green leaves with orange, yellow and red autumn colours and fragrant orange, red or yellow flowers on the bare branches. Cut some for indoors, or plant near to entrances to enjoy the sweet scent as you pass by.
Helleborus niger –
Christmas Rose – an evergreen perennial with large, saucer-like, pure white flowers with prominent yellow stamens. Plant in a shady spot.
Iris unguicularis –
Pretty lavender blue, scented flowers in winter and evergreen grassy foliage. Quite low-growing though, so make sure you plant them somewhere you can appreciate the fragrance – maybe in a raised bed?
Nandina domestica ‘Firepower’ –
Heavenly Bamboo – a hard-working little shrub with several seasons of interest, it flowers in July, but at this time of year bears scarlet fruits and its bamboo-like leaves turn brilliant fiery red.
Sarcococca hookerana digyna –
Christmas Box – a fairly tolerant, compact evergreen with glossy foliage and fragrant white flowers. Like the Hamamelis, plant near entrances and cut some branches for indoors to enjoy the perfume.
Skimmia japonica ‘Rubella’ –
A useful compact evergreen shrub for shady areas and acid soil, just now the attractive red flower buds are waiting to burst into white flowers in the spring.
December Tips and Advice
1. If the ground’s not too hard, borders can still be dug over this month in preparation for spring planting. Clay soils can be improved by adding plenty of grit, old potting compost if you have it, or well-rotted leaf mould.
2. Try to stay off existing lawns when it’s frosty if possible.
3. New turf can be laid as long as the ground isn’t frosty.
4. Protect any tender shrubs with straw if you haven’t done so already.
5. Check on tree ties to make sure they’re secure against winter winds.
6. If you get snow, make sure you carefully brush it off shrubs and hedges to prevent damage.
7. If you’ve got a greenhouse, make sure you ventilate it whenever possible and water plants only when absolutely necessary to prevent rotting.
8. Check over all your tools and equipment before putting it away for winter – sharpen secateurs and knives, oil the pivots, thoroughly clean chemical sprayers, etc.
9. If you’ve left a pump submerged in a water feature, continue to run it for a few minutes at a time every week or two. Remember to maintain an ice-free patch in ponds both to protect the fish if you have them, and to prevent cracking in the pond liner.
10. Finally, long winter evenings can be passed by going through seed catalogues and deciding what you are going to grow next year – exciting!