8 December 2015

Winter Wonders


As the festive season begins, there’s no better time to have a wander in your garden to see what greenery you might be able to use to make your own decorations.

“If you have common plants like holly, cotoneaster, rosemary and ivy, they can all be put to good use in Christmas displays both inside and out,” says Emma Hardy, whose new book The Winter Garden offers a plethora of ideas on how to make winter containers look stunning and create beautiful displays from garden matter.

“Little pine conifers will be fine to have indoors over Christmas. I bought some Picea glauca [white spruce] from Ikea, which are really good for Christmas displays. Look indoors at garden centres and they will have those little conifers.”

Add softer greenery like bun moss or even moss from your lawn to add to a trough for the table, including other items such as mind-your-own-business (Soleirolia soleirolii) and bead plant (Nertera granadensis).

“You can pick moss off the lawn or if you have a lovely bit on the roof of your shed, use that. You may need to mist it a bit to keep it moist,” says Emma.

“Ivy, especially if it has the berries on it, looks great and lasts for ages. Pussy willow can be used, as can rosemary which keeps its shape, and eucalyptus.

“For a cheap display, consider bulbs. I bought some hyacinths the other day which were 69p each. Get a few of those, pot them up in an old vase with pine cones round them and it makes a special display.”

Making holes in the bottom of any trough is essential for drainage, but ensure you put a drip tray underneath or the Christmas table’s going to get wet. Add a thick layer of gravel to the bottom of the container, levelling the surface, then half-fill the trough with potting compost before adding your plants.

“If you want a bit of sparkle, put some of those battery-operated fairy lights around the tree and it’s just the sweetest thing,” she advises.

“You could put pine cones around the base of it, or anything with berries, such as a sprig of holly or snowberries.”

Use succulents from an existing rockery to make a fantastic wreath which should look good all year round and can be refreshed and reused next year too.

Use moss to line a metal wreath frame, pulling the moss into pieces and laying it in a ring shape slightly larger than the wire frame, root side up on the table.

Lay the wire wreath frame on top of the moss and place handfuls of potting compost on the frame, then wrap the moss around the frame and the compost, securing it with copper wire. This should provide enough nutrients to keep the succulents happy.

“Mine has lasted all year, although there are a couple of things that need replacing,” she says.

“It’s easy to extract sedums or sempervivums by breaking a bit off from their main plants, keeping the roots intact. Use floristry wire to secure them to the wreath.

“If you are using succulents from your garden, work a bit in advance and then you can leave the wreath flat for a couple of weeks to let the plants start rooting a bit.”

When Christmas is over, Hardy hangs her wreath in a sheltered spot on her garden fence near the house.

“Succulents can survive quite dry conditions, so make sure the wreath doesn’t become waterlogged. In very dry weather, just moisten the moss and potting compost a little.”

Window boxes can be given pizzazz with the addition of violas and miniature ferns, while white cyclamen and silver-leafed plants such as cushion bush (Calocephalus brownii) and hairy canary clover (Dorycnium hirsutus ‘Little Boy Blue’) can give a frosty feel to a container.

If you want a burst of colour, consider a larger container crammed with a mixture of plants with bright berries including pyracantha and winter cherry.

“With all winter displays, it’s not worth doing anything that you can’t see from your house,” she observes.

“If you have space by your front door, back door or back window, position your plants so you can see them.”

The Winter Garden by Emma Hardy (photography by Debbie Patterson) is published by CICO Books, priced £14.99. Available now.

Best of the Bunch

Ornamental Cabbage (Brassica oleracea)

These winter showstoppers provide gorgeous colour and blousy texture to containers, providing a focal point in small displays or adding rich foliage form to larger arrangements, planted with small conifers, heathers and feathery artemisia.

Blend white variegated types with white-berried Gaultheria mucronata and white mini cyclamen. They can be grown as annuals from seed mixtures or as mature plants in garden centres and nurseries. Grow in lime-rich, well-drained soil in a sheltered, sunny spot. Good varieties include B. oleracea var. capitata ‘Osaka’, which produces frilled, purple pink or white centres and ‘Tokyo’, with pink, red or white centres.

Good Enough to Eat


There’s no excuse not to grow a few parsnips for the winter menu. They are low-maintenance and you can interplant lettuce or radish between the rows. Long parsnips need deep, stone-free soil, but there are shorter varieties such as ‘Avonresister’ which aren’t as fussy to grow in sun or light shade.

Dig the ground in autumn or early winter and don’t add compost or fresh manure. Rake in a general purpose fertiliser when preparing the seed bed. Sow in March or April, three seeds together at 15cm intervals and later thin out seedlings to leave one plant. Hoe regularly to keep weeds at bay and water if there are long periods of dry weather.

Roots are ready for lifting when the leaves die down in autumn, but you can leave them in the soil until you need them.

Make sure bird feeders and baths are kept topped up, as it becomes harder for them to find food.

Protect herbaceous perennials by putting a thick layer of straw or bracken over the crown of the plant, holding it in position with wire netting secured by pegs stuck into the ground.

If you didn’t dig any manure into the soil in autumn, acquire some well-rotted manure from farms or riding stables

Clean moss and lichen from paths, using proprietary path and patio cleaners if necessary

Cut back tall rose bushes by half to prevent wind rock

Clean gladioli corms which were lifted last month if the foliage has withered completely

Protect the tops of celery either by using straw or by placing cloches along the ridge

Check spring bedding, removing any debris or weeds that has lodged between the plants

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