There’s a tradition in the UK of recording plants that are in flower in the garden on Christmas day. Adventurous gardener Graham Strong has found that the following plants are the most reliable and can be used to glam up your garden over the holidays and also be given as gifts to green-fingered friends.
Even during the winter, clematis can be relied upon to provide flowers and fragrance. Look out for evergreen Clematis cirrhosa, which produces flowers like hanging bells around Christmastime. One variety is speckled inside the bell and known as Freckles and it’s lemon-scented with red-spotted flowers, which are followed by attractive fluffy seed heads.
The flowers of Freckles stand proud of the glossy fern-like evergreen foliage, which takes on bronze tints when the temperature drops
To keep winter clematis plants in shape, all you need to do is prune back the flowering shoots by one third, once the blooms have faded. The variety Freckles is most effective when trained over a pergola or arch so that you can appreciate the distinctive markings, which are less visible when the plants is grown against a wall.
Wisely Cream has creamy-green flowers followed by fluffy seed heads
Other favourites are Wisley Cream and the aptly named Jingle Bells, which is outstanding with creamy white nodding flowers that contrast against the rich green foliage, making it an excellent specimen to add winter colour to a fence, trellis or wall. These plants are evergreen and suitable for growing in a container. They are also ideal for training around a doorway in a sunny, sheltered spot or on an archway where the scented blooms can be appreciated.
No tricky pruning is required and the nodding, bell-shaped white blooms, which appear from December through to February, also makes evergreen Clematis Winter Beauty another much sought-after plant.
Allow Winter Beauty to tumble over a low wall or grow in a pot on the patio. To guarantee blooms in time for Christmas put a potted plant in a cool conservatory or porch to force the waiting flower buds to open
Camellia sasanqua varieties typically start to flower in autumn and can still be showing blooms at Christmas. One that you can rely on is Camellia Yuletide, which has glossy dark green leaves that provide a sumptuous backdrop for the profusion of yellow-eyed, red flowers, when they appear during the build up to the Christmas.
If left to grow naturally, Camellia Yuletide, which is a compact shrub with a pyramidal habit, can also be trained against a wall to save space or grown in a large pot on a sheltered patio
Other early blooming camellias that flowers at Christmas and make the perfect gift are Camellia sasanqua Winter’s Snowman, which curiously produces either semi-double or anenome-form white flowers and sometimes both at the same time; Yuletide, which is a mass of bright red blooms from November to January and the fresh white flowered, anenome form flowers of Snow Flurry. For these showy flowers to shine, plant them against a backdrop of luxurious evergreen foliage.
If you have a porch or conservatory to protect the delicate blooms of Snow Flurry from damage by the morning sun, this plant should also reward you with a wonderful show of bright white blooms against glossy evergreen leaves all through December and January.
Commonly called the Christmas Rose because of a legend in which Helleborus niger sprouted from the snow where a young girl, who had no gift to give to the son of God, had been crying.It blooms during the darkest days of winter through to early spring. It may need a little coaxing to perform on Christmas Day though, so grow it in a pot of John Innes No 3 compost, top-dress with coarse grit to improve drainage and place in a cool porch or a sheltered spot against a wall in the garden and within a few weeks the beautiful white, buttercup-like flowers will open.
The variety Potter’s Wheel is the best-known variety and has exceptionally large flowers up to 10cm across. Alternatively, you may prefer the aptly named White Christmas, which was raised by Hillier Nurseries. Look out also, for the variety Christmas Carol, a form that displays classic white flowers that have a pink flush on the edge of the petals.
The Ashwood Strain has the purest white blooms on strong stems, making them ideal for cutting. The new selection, Ashwood Marble Form also has delicate silver markings on the evergreen leaves and Marion is a double-flowered form and is well worth adding to your collection.
Hellebores niger HGC Jacob (shown) and HGC Josef Lemper have been specially developed to guarantee flowers at Christmas
If you’re lucky, you may also find Snowdrops springing up around Christmas time and especially varieties from the winter-flowering groups of Galanthus reginae-olgae and Galanthus elwesii Hiemalis. Faringdon Double is probably the most reliable double for Christmas.
Rare and pricey, it’s worth seeking out Galanthus Three Ships for its reliability to be in flower at Christmas
Snowdrops have specially hardened tips that enable them to push through frosted ground so can be relied upon to make a beautiful sight on a cold crisp morning.
They are best planted in bold clumps beneath trees and shrubs but bear in mind they like soils with plenty of humus and not hot dry spots. You can also use them to add a dab of scent to your lawn. Galanthus S Arnott is the best variety for scent, releasing a strong honey perfume from its single bell-shaped flowers. Galanthus nivalis, the British native species is the best snowdrop to plant in sheets to give snowy coloured ground cover in February.
The double variety Flore Pleno looks even more special and especially in borders in association with lungwort, Pulmonaria rubra, hellebores and winter aconites. For a rich dark contrast, plant them with Bergenia purpurascens, which has leathery, green leaves that turn to metallic purple-brown in winter with rosy red reverses.
Snowdrops are best bought “in the green” – with leaves or top quality bulbs. This is the best time to divide large clumps too. So, after the flowers are over but before the leaves die down, they are known as ‘in the green’.
Plant them in bold drifts with a few double-flowered varieties dotted in-between. With careful selection it’s possible to have a ‘snowy carpet’ throughout your flowerbeds from the New Year through to mid-March.
Erica carnea Springwood White is probably the most famous and widely planted of the winter-flowering heaths although Ice Princess has become more popularly sought-after. It has a vigorous ground-hugging habit, green foliage and masses of small white flowers that are borne in clusters.
Try it in a pot near the house with white-flowered winter-flowering pansies and forced hyacinths padded out with the bold leaves of ornamental cabbages or alongside early-flowering crocuses, where it will lift the spirits in the depths of winter. As it tolerates mildly alkaline soil there’s no need to have special acid soil, so in the garden plant it in bold drifts beneath shrubs and especially a birch tree with a sparkling white trunk.
The majority of photography used on this site is protected by copyright and a fee must be agreed with those belonging to Graham Strong Associates before use