Each year I pick a posy of flowers on Christmas Eve and count how many different blooms I can find to cheer up the dark days of winter. This year we are all in particular need of cheer, as many of us have to cancel our Christmas plans to be with our loved ones so as not to risk killing each other. Here, on Plague Island, we are about to have the much vaunted ‘sovereignty’ as the dreaded ‘B’ word is coming to pass, but nobody wants to come here, or let us out anyway. So we are left to stew in our own sovereign juices. I imagine the rest of the world is enjoying a bit of schadenfreude right now. And by next week when fresh vegetables and fruit are hard to find, people are going to have to eat their hoarded toilet paper. And if they voted for Brexit, it serves them right.
But it is Christmas Eve and not the time for a rant and I do try and avoid all things personal and political on this blog and confine myself to horticultural matters. So here is my Christmas Eve posy. I didn’t include all the flowers in bloom because I couldn’t bring myself to pick either of my two witch hazels, ‘Orange Peel’ or ‘Diane’ and I couldn’t spare a single bloom of lovely Narcissus minor ‘Cedric Morris’ which keeps on flowering for weeks in the garden. But although they are not in the posy I shall include them in the count.
This posy-finding ritual always reminds me of the late Tony Venison who was the oracle of our garden club. For many years Tony was the gardening editor of Country Life. I first met him many years ago when he turned up to my garden with Lady Barbirolli of all people. Tony told me years ago that his Christmas Eve treat was to pick a bunch of whatever flowers were in bloom and count them and I have done the same thing ever since. His count always exceeded mine which is not surprising as his garden was filled with such rare treasures.
There are usually quite a few roses hanging on bravely and looking a bit dishevelled, like revellers who have stayed too long at the party. This pink one is looking a bit better than most. It is fun at this time of the year to mix up the seasons, so along with the rose, I have a pure white Christmas rose, Helleborus niger. This sometimes gets a bit mud- splattered outside so maybe next year I will dig up a few for a pot in the greenhouse. I also have a couple of snowdrops; one is called Galanthus ”Farringdon’s Double’ and the other, aptly named for Christmas is Galanthus ‘Three Ships’.
Mahonia x media ‘Charity’ which started blooming in November is still hanging on and lightly fragrant, smelling of lily of the valley. But for wonderful, spicy fragrance my favourite just now is Chimonanthus praecox. It has little, yellow, waxy claws of deliciousness stained with red inside.
It is nice to have some blue at this time of the year and all my clumps of Iris unguicularis are full of blooms. It is a good idea to pick them in bud and watch them unfurling in water.
The little white flower tucked in beside the iris is not a snowdrop it is a very early Summer Snowflake, Leucojum aestivum. For some reason this tall snowflake always blooms before the shorter Spring one; Leucojum vernum.
I have an even sweeter fragrance with Daphne ‘Perfume Princess’ which blooms almost non-stop.
Fragrance is one of the great delights of many winter blooms and the winter- flowering honeysuckle, Lonicera standishii is delicious.
Viburnums are useful at this time of the year. I have a soft pale pink one, Viburnum farreri which starts blooming in November and the deep pink Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’ which has larger flowers. The third is Viburnum tinus which has pretty flowers in winter but I don’t love it and I have grubbed up several bushes because the foliage smells disgusting when it is wet.
Still in pink and white, we have a couple of bits of winter -flowering cherry, the white Prunus subhirtella ‘Autumnalis’ and the pink form ‘Rosea’.
Skimmia flowers are still in bud but the buds of Skimmia japonica ‘Rubella’ are a lovely dark red.
Most of my chrysanthemums are over now but lovely late-flowering golden, Chrysanthemum ‘Chelsea Physic Garden’ still goes on.
I also have some sprigs of winter-flowering heather, Erica carnea , some winter jasmine, Jasminum nudiflorum and a little flower of Helleborus x hybridus in my vase. But I couldn’t bear to pick beautiful Hellebore ‘Phoebe’.
I just checked last year’s count and there were only 19 blooms then so I have a few more today. And my last year’s vase which was done a little later on New Year’s Eve because we had such awful colds at Christmas, reminds me that I have forgotten to include Clematis cirrhosa ‘Wisley Cream’ or ‘Freckles’ and I am surprised at myself for forgetting dear little Cyclamen coum. In 2018 there were 29 bloom, including quite a few summer lingerers, so it does vary from year to year.
Anyway, whatever you are doing this Christmas, whether it is counting your winter blooms or eating too many mince pies, I hope it is a good one. I wish you every happiness, and fingers crossed for a happy and above all, a healthy New Year.