‘Berry’ topical tips for Christmas colour

From this week onwards I start to really enter into the spirit of Christmas probably because we are in the middle of our Flowers for Christmas events which we hold in the garden each year.

During the summer it became apparent that we were in for a bumper crop of holly berries and as usual the doom and gloom merchants were telling all who would listen that we were in for a hard winter! This is, of course, nonsense; the reason for a good crop of fruit is related to the climate from the previous summer as we all know from growing our own fruit trees.

However, it is around this time of the year that we suddenly become aware that the berries are disappearing from our holly trees. In fact, some will have already gone; we have a stand of Ilex aquifolium 'J.C.van Tol' which produces large crops of very bright, shiny red berries but, these are always among the first to be taken by the birds, they probably ripen before others and taste better or is it because of their colouring? It's interesting to note that not all holly berries are red, some produce black berries which can look rather sophisticated and others are in shades of orange.

There are also those that produce yellow berries, one of these appeared as a chance seedling in the garden here and was good enough to be named after the garden. It is 'East Ruston Gold', very prolific and quite startling but, again, the birds get to it before I can.

To have fresh flowers in the house for Christmas is more often than not a luxury for they are very expensive. To this end, I have resolved to have a go at growing some for myself; chrysanthemums are one possibility, especially those with lime-green flowers.


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Many years ago, I remember my father explaining to me that he used to grow these but the one drawback with them was that they had weak necks so if the flower became too large the stem would break or bend rendering them useless. I am hoping that with some research I can find some varieties where this unfortunate problem no longer occurs.

I am not bothered about the size of their individual flowers - just to be able to pick a few bunches over the festive period will satisfy me.

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I am already lucky enough to have a few roses from the plants of Columbian Climber that grows in the green house where we overwinter our succulent collection at a temperature that is only just above freezing point. The flowers on this rose are a good shade of pink and very double but, most importantly they have a really powerful perfume that is sadly lacking in shop bought blossoms.

To be able to get a few roses ready for cutting in winter, we prune the mother plants in late August, sometimes we are very successful and get lots of Christmas blooms, sometimes there is only two or three but, to even have one would be joyous at this time.

I think that Alstroemerias might be worth a try because although I know that they are said to resent division sometimes we have no choice but to give this method of propagation a try.

Ian Roofe divided some rather expensive Alstroemerias that I had bought for the garden and the results were quite amazing. This he did in September and they grew away with gusto and have been flowering continually in pots in the glasshouse ever since. One trick he uses to keep them blooming is to pull away the old flowering stems with a sharp tug immediately they go over. The knack is to do it just hard enough so that the old stems come cleanly away from the base. It's easy with a little practice!

Schizostylis or Kaffir lilies are another possibility. I have mentioned these before for they make good pot subjects provided you give them large enough containers and a rich fodder. They start to flower in the garden as the days grow visibly shorter and for that reason it is best if they can be afforded a sheltered spot but, even then their flowering will eventually be curtailed by inclement weather. Given the shelter of cool or even cold glass, we might expect their flowering period to be increased by several weeks, possibly up to and beyond the festive season. They come in shades of pink and white but, for a seasonal flourish, I should go for Schizostylis coccinea 'Major' this being red and with larger flowers too, these would make a very valuable contribution and once again, the more they are picked, the more flowers they will produce.

Tender Narcissi should not be overlooked either. Varieties such as Paperwhite and Grand Soliel D'Or are often grown in pots to be brought into the house while in bloom as much for their scent as anything else, although too close it can be cloying.

The problem with these in pots is that they keep on growing becoming messily too tall so that their leaves flop untidily. Instead why not grow them under glass in deep boxes or pots especially for picking? That way you get the flowers and scent without the mess of too much foliage. As these are not generally hardy in this country, they can be discarded after flowering although, as I have seen Paperwhites flowering quite happily in gardens on Guernsey it might it be nice to try them here in a sheltered spot.

Who knows, we just might have a winter less cruel than the past two and if you buy these bulbs from a wholesale supplier they will only cost �1.20 to �1.50 for ten, which is very good value indeed.

•This article was first published on December 10, 2011 .

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