Ravishing roses to riveting books: Christmas presents for gardeners – Monetary Instances

Ravishing roses to riveting books: Christmas presents for gardeners – Monetary Instances

Here are my plans for Christmas: fork it, plant it, read it. It promises to be a holiday break like no other, so my plans are tailored to suit it.

Until the frost and snow, Londoners had been cashing in on mild and garden-friendly weather. My daughter’s London garden is only two years in the making but it has had far more in flower than mine in the chilly Cotswolds after 35 years in the slow lane.

She has had roses galore and a mass of yellow flowers on her tall abutilon, one which I believe to be Canary Bird. It had been flowering since May: last-minute plants of abutilon Canary Bird are available from Crocus.co.uk for £24.99 each. My garden is too cold for them, so I view Canary Bird with truly green eyes, green with envy.

Out in the sticks, frost permitting, I will be forking what I should have forked from July onwards. During those long, hot weeks until mid-September, the ground turned rock hard and I gave up active engagement with it.

Rain and warmth then brought weeds back in profusion, especially tufts of grass, self-seeded into borders while I followed the soundbite of the season and imposed a no-mow May on the edges of my lawn. Never again: by the end of the year I hope to be back in control of them.

As for planting, I will do some of it myself and give the other options as presents. I have just been round good garden centres to see what will make an affordable impact. Does any keen gardener believe that inflation is running at only 11 per cent? Heating, fertiliser, labour and transport have all soared in price, but ready-grown plants have hugely outpaced them, sometimes rising by 35 per cent or more.

A neatly potted rose for an arch or wall now has a tag of £30 if it is from the David Austin stable. I would happily give a Christmas present of Malvern Hills, one of their best, with clusters of small yellow flowers born repeatedly in summer and autumn. In June, I talked with David Austin Jr, head of the business, and he even mused whether a price of £40 a rose might be a good strategy, limiting sales but in turn reducing the labour of producing so many well-grown roses and transporting them.

Away from the dominant Austin range, prices are lower and sometimes quality is comparable. For £16, a plant I liked the look of is the Duchess of Cornwall, a bush rose growing up to 3ft high and bearing cup-shaped orange-pink flowers with a good scent.

I also like Belle de Jour, voted Rose of the Year in 2021: prices are lower if you can wait until January for delivery. Its deep yellow flowers are very well scented and appear twice in the summer above healthy green leaves. It, too, is 3ft high, a good choice for a flowerbed.

My number one tip for a Christmas present is a neat small evergreen, Daphne x transatlantica Eternal Fragrance. It has handsome dark-green leaves, is well suited to life in a deep pot and carries small white flowers in the axils of its leaves from June until autumn. They are finely scented.

This newish Daphne is one that gardeners are unlikely to have already. If they do, two are never one too many. They make a splendid pair for pots on either side of a door. Again, Crocus.co.uk are offering good plants, currently on offer at £24.49 each. They need no special care except regular watering if kept in a pot.

Garden centres are displaying plants of a new red-berried evergreen skimmia called japonica Desire (Gold Series). Think twice before falling for first appearances. Desire is a female, which will only berry in future years if a male is nearby to fertilise it, skimmia Kew Green or Rubella being widely available male options. Buying one means buying two, so I would give it a miss.

Christmas roses, or Helleborus niger, are also prominent in garden centres, especially if in clay pots and offered at fancy prices. Again, I would resist temptation. This type of hellebore is not a fine performer outdoors: its flowers are easily damaged by rain and splashed with mud. Look for later-flowering hellebores instead, preferably the Harvington hybrids, which I have found on sale for £15 each. They will not flower until February but will thrive outdoors, even in shade below tall trees. The prettiest ones are the plain yellows, whites or pinks. Anyone would be glad to have more of these excellent hybrids, the results of British breeding for many years.

At a price, some unusual border plants are being offered in good garden centres. Look out for Acanthus sennii, a newly available acanthus from the Ethiopian highlands, which has an upright stem and leaves like a finely cut mahonia. Tufts of red-orange flowers appear at the tops of the stem and are most unusual. Serious gardeners are unlikely to have it. I found plants at £20 each but, I suppose, it is nearly Christmas.

For London gardeners with beds in shade, I would also grin and pay Christmas prices for a new easily grown brunnera. Jack of Diamonds looks good even in winter. It is an enlarged version of the admired Jack Frost with much bigger leaves, about 10in wide, which have green veins and a silvery frosting all over them. Cut them back in winter and wait for the pale blue flowers, like forget-me-nots, to appear in spring. Unlike ordinary green brunneras, Jack of Diamonds remains impressive all summer.

If it pours with post-Christmas rain, I will sit indoors and read instead. I am not the ideal reader for Jack Wallington’s much praised Wild About Weeds, though he knows the subject and includes interviews with growers abroad, including Yuko Nagamura, a designer who states honestly that even in Japan the photogenic moss gardens are struggling in a warmer climate.

I do not see the point of growing nothing but so-called weeds, when so many countries’ flora are full of prettier and longer-flowering alternatives and breeders have patiently selected others that give us many more buds for our buck.

I do, however, rally to Olivier Filippi’s Bringing the Mediterranean into Your Garden, a 2019 title that gained in relevance in the recent dry summer. He, too, is an expert, practising what he preaches in his nursery in southern France for more than 30 years.

Last, dreamy beauty. Arabella Lennox-Boyd’s Gardens in My Life also appeared in 2021, but it is back on my Christmas list. In November, I was in a big audience for her lecture for the National Gardens Scheme in London. We were inspired by the beauty of the borders she showed on screen and her committed attitude to space, volume and planting.

The book shows her favourite gardens, mostly designed and planted to her plans across the world. Why grow weeds when you can aspire to such dreams instead?

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