with Charlie Wilkins
DECK THE HALLS
Holly is a wind, salt, and rabbit proof shrub, and there are many splendid varieties from which to choose. In decades past gardeners would have been aware of this and the plant’s other hidden connotations. Today, the hollies’ virtues seem to be somewhat disregarded, and the young and already balding have little interest in tradition, religion, or folklore. But holly and ivy still hold special interest and meaning for Christians, especially on the approach to Christmas.
As evergreens, they represent the unchanging, and the immortality contained within the promise of Christmas. They are the outside world brought indoors; they are Nature-God’s hand work- carried into our midst and made relevant to everyone.
Sad to relate, holly varieties rarely receive the merit they deserve as a garden plant. There are over 700 varieties available, varying in size, shape, and colour but only a handful are rated as worthy of a spot in the garden. This is rather a pity for a suitable holly can be found for even the smallest garden, providing year-round colour and interest. You’ll have to put up with prickly leaves of course, but it’s not every day that you’ll be working around these or cutting pieces to bring indoors!
The best forms for a small garden include those with richly variegated foliage and names which would have you believe that sex discrimination between plants never existed! “Golden King” for example is a wonderful variety which has glossy leaves of dark green, heavily marked with bright yellow, but it’s a female which needs the company of a male to produce masses of vivid scarlet berries during winter. Then there’s a male form called “Silver Queen” which has a delicate tracery of silver around its leaf margins, making it one of the best foliage plants you could possibly encounter. Both together would make a splendid sight when lit up by the sharp winter sun, whilst the area about their bases could be further enhanced with either the autumn flowering cyclamen called ‘neapotitanum’ or pure white snowdrops in late winter. Variegated forms, it should be noted, require full sun to maintain their exceptional colouring.
A SORRY SIGHT
Plants that flowered up to last month have now died gracefully. Early frosts have put an end to their exciting floriferous life. Anemone japonica (normally avoided due to their invasiveness) have been reduced to the furry yellow buttons that were their centres and the black-eyed Susan’s (Rudbeckia) are similarly reduced but to black furry buttons. Agapanthus flowers which have long faded have now shed their seed pods and stand stiff, like ghosts of themselves. Their strap leaves, collapsed in a heap, are as yellow as wet straw. Hostas lie as in slush. Dahlias, which were so vivid up to very recently are now blackened and lifeless. These were wonderful during the past few months and any slushy ones (hosta and agapanthus) should now be cleared of their underwear. Otherwise, the remnants would act as slug and snail hotels for all of winter!
But for all the dying and destruction, a winter garden is something special and every effort should be made to lighten and brighten the scene. Anyone can invest in a few dozen annuals during May to give a great blast of colour up to October, but it takes thought and imagination to make an inviting winter prospect, where a visit is worthwhile whatever the weather.
There are I promise you, a surprising number of shrubs and plants that choose to flower in winter and as many of these are also scented
their contribution can be regarded as doubly valuable. Visit your local garden outlet and see their range soon.
Several houseplants object to tap water. In many homes it contains lime. Indoor azaleas, poinsettias, and heathers must have rainwater or water following the defrosting of a fridge. Many people now own dehumidifiers to reduce condensation in the home and the water they collect is perfect for the plants mentioned. It’s almost pure water but it is not of drinking quality. Rainwater as ever will be perfect.
PLANTS HELP FIND CANCER CURE
Long live the union of plants and chemists! Over the past few decades, it has been discovered that Taxol is invaluable for the treatment of cancer and throughout Europe yew leaf trimmings are collected to make a drug called Taxotere. All plants, weeds and wild growth included, have the potency to heal humans so let’s all be concerned about the disappearance of plant species from the wild. Otherwise, we may eventually mourn their loss and ultimately ours!
CLOSING THE YEAR
Once the tulips go in during mid-December, and the geraniums and Jamaica Primroses (Argyranthemums) are stashed away, the glasshouse door won’t creak again until the Christmas festivities have concluded! I may, out of monotony or boredom, pop in to see that nothing is going short of water, but apart from that my routine pattern won’t change.
All that is left therefore is to wish all readers a Happy and Holy Christmas. It was a pleasure writing for so many keen readers during 2021 and I hope you will persevere with me for another season. Seasons greetings to one and all.