Contributed by Ginny Oakes

On December 20, 2016

A Christmas Garden

Members collected together an amazing array of plants in a display at the Christmas Party. We had nearly fifty individual exhibits with amazingly few duplicates so thank you to everyone who contributed and made it possible to spend a very jolly half hour discussing our favourite topic. We had evergreens, flowers, seed heads, coloured stems and berries and heard from the growers as well as other members either asking questions or adding their own experiences.
Westringia fruticosa ‘Smokie’
Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’
Westringia fruticosa ‘Smokie’ stood out because of its delicate beauty and because most of us had never heard of it. The fine foliage gave the impression of being grey although it is actually variegated, the grey/green leaves having a white edge, and the tiny white flowers have purple at the base of the petals. The species is from eastern Australia and probably only hardy in a very sheltered spot. A few lucky members took the stems to see if they could root them so maybe we’ll see it in the plant sale soon.

Coloured stems are a popular source of colour for the winter garden and we had nine to look at. Cornus is usually the first that comes to mind and there were cultivars in a variety of colours: Cornus alba ‘Spaethii’, C.a. ‘Variegata’, C. sericea ‘Flaviramea’ and C. sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’. Salix also provides eye-catching stems when pollarded annually and we saw S. alba vitellina ‘Britzensis’ with orange stems. S. hookeriana is not so brightly coloured but has a subtle, shiny greyness with attractive dark buds adding texture. 

Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’

Many members were uncertain as to the identity of some other grey stems, which turned out to be Perovskia ‘Blue Spire’. This plant is a common stalwart of the summer garden but, if left, adds a pale grey lightness in the winter. Then we had Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’, the contorted hazel. Its owner admitted that in summer it’s a poorly-looking thing but in winter its twisted stems add an interest and pleasure.

There was also a stem of Alnus incana ‘Aurea’. In this form the leaves are yellow but we noticed that the small catkins also had a very pretty yellow/pink cast to them. We also had colour from the seeds of Iris foetidissima and the hips of a very prickly Rosa filipes ‘Kiftsgate’. And speaking of prickly, you would only realize just how prickly Colletia hystrix if you touched in inadvertently, know what hystrix means or had to carry it from the car! This beautiful plant is native to South America and flowers in late summer into autumn but obviously hangs on in good weather into December. With such sharp spines we were surprised to hear that it is also attractive to butterflies.

Of course, evergreens were well represented. We had seasonal holly and ivy and not-so-seasonal olive – with only green fruits, I’m afraid, although one member did say he had ripe fruits on his. We’ll have the martinis ready next year! There were several varieties of myrtle adding perfume to the air, a skimmia and a viburnum. One member brought a small stem of nandina, asking if anyone could tell her what species it is because she thought it was shorter than the normal N. domestica. N. d. ‘Pygmaea’ was suggested.

Seven varieties of pittosporum confirmed the popularity of these lovely shrubs. My favourite was Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Elizabeth’, which has variegated leaves larger than most and with an attractive pink edge. We also had P. t. ‘Margaret Turnbull’ which has leaves with a dark green undulating margin and bright yellow-green centre, P. t. ‘Silver Queen’ with rounded greyish-green leaves narrowly margined with creamy-white and P. t. ‘Tandara Gold’ with leaves which are variegated green and gold and have wavy edges. P. ‘Oliver Twist’ has small, silvery, leaves with wavy margins, P. buchananii has dark, glossy green leaves and P. tenuifolium rounded, glossy light green ones. Quite a collection!

Colletia histrix
Amongst the evergreens, one vase was a botany lesson all by itself. We saw Viburnum rhytidophyllum with its large, wrinkled, deeply-veined dark green leaves with paler undersides. Next to it was Viburnum utile, less well-known to most of us, with small, glossy, dark green leaves with silvery undersides. And between the two was a plant that we could see was a cross, inheriting characteristics from both. Viburnum x pragense is a hybrid cross made at Prague Municipal Gardens, Czech Republic in 1955 and has medium, very waxy, dark green leaves with grey undersides.
Abutilon ‘Kentish Belle’
We had flowers too – the last blooms of Abutilon ‘Kentish Belle’ reminding me of Christmas lights hanging on a tree and lovely pale, white flowers of Vinca diformis, which, its owner told us, blooms throughout the year. We had a stem of a mystery buddleja with soft grey leaves and white flowers at this time of year, which the member hoped we might be able to identify – nobody could so it remains as possibly Buddleja asiatica.

Ever reliable Jasminum nudiflorum gave us its pretty yellow flowers and Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Ruby Glow’, which normally flowers in February, had early blooms in dark orange.

We also saw  a beautiful flower of Romulea hallii, many of us for the first time. Some species of this Crocus relative can be found in the Europe – it was named in honour of Romulus, legendary founder of Rome – where it flowers in the spring but R. hallii is only known in the wild from a small area of the Succulent Karoo on the Roggeveld Plateau southwest of Sutherland in South Africa. It is possibly frost hardy but most would probably be best grown in a bulb frame.


Vinca diformis
Romulea hallii by dogtooth77 is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Jasminum nudiflorum
Eucomis ‘Joy’s Purple’
Eucomis ‘Joy’s Purple’ prompted a great deal of discussion. Members were envious of the amount of seed on this stem – other purple varieties don’t seem to set much seed. It was also thought that E. ‘Joy’s Purple’ could be hardier than E. ‘Sparkling Burgundy’ and therefore a better bet for planting out. Members had also had success with growing new plants from leaf cuttings. One, following advice from Fergus Garrett, took cuttings in September and found that they rooted in just a few weeks. Eucomis in its many species and cultivars seem to be becoming more popular so this is extremely useful information, which might lead to them being more easily available.
I will finish with a first – the first snowdrop of the season! For many, Galanthus reginae-olgae is the first snowdrop to flower and we had a tiny vase of them to see. They had already been in flower for some weeks and act as the overture for the full performance which will unfold over the next few months. Galanthophiles are really looking forward to this, others are not quite so excited!

Thank you to everyone who brought plants and made this possible.

Galanthus reginae-olgae by Tim Waters is licensed under CC BY 2.0

1 Comment

  1. Cathy Rollinson

    What a fantastic selection – I’ve added several to my must-have list.

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