The Green Scene: Seasonal Magic

By James O’Doherty

green scene

Winter draws in on us. All year we have watched nature moving. In Autumn it begins to slow down, perhaps to give us an opportunity to take a moment and appreciate the seasons that have passed. Now it’s winter, and the year’s declining days bring a unique beauty.

One can admire the lovely colours of the barks of the trees and the hue of the low winter sun, delicate winter blossoms of clematis freckles, the Christmas rose helleborus niger, and the conifers with their silken threads.

The artistic beauty of the bark of the silver birch competes for our attention with the early flowering shrubs. Days may be short and nights long, but this is still a beautiful time for gardeners. December to March is a busy time and there is still lots to be done. The attractive carnea and darleyensis heathers will yield lovely colours during this time. The beautiful witch hazels covered in gold, the winter scent (chimonanthus fragrans) pale yellow blooms, both scented and long flowering, all bring great colour during these dark days.

Viburnum Tinus, flowering October to March, are admirable plants in every way and will brighten the darkest days of winter. And let’s not forget the holly, a welcome sight at this time of year. It offers more than a legendary association with Christmas. There are many varieties of leaf and berries that are lovely ornamental shrubs and trees. At times, holly doesn’t always get the recognition it deserves as a garden plant. Give it a place in your garden.

So what tasks for the busy gardener as Christmas approaches?

Dig any part of the vegetable plot that is clear of crops. Complete the pruning of fruit trees, plant deciduous trees and shrubs, and apply preservative to exposed wood. Get your lawnmower serviced and continue to take hard wood cuttings of ornamental shrubs. This is the time of year to check your garden tools. Sow a few rows of broad beans in a sheltered spot and use a weed killer to destroy weeds on paths.

This is the season where nature can come indoors. Christmas is fast approaching, so let me share some seasonal tips around the selection of your Christmas tree.

I would recommend the following as suitable for centrally heated homes:

• The Noble Fir tree, with its tiered effect and pale grey bark is a non-shredder of needles.
• The Nordmann Fir is a tiered blue spruce classic shape with sharp needles.
• The much loved Scots Pine.

It is a mistake to erect your tree too early. I suggest waiting until Christmas week. Put the lights on first and make sure the tree is properly secured. Keep away from open fires and heating appliances. Use good quality lights and remember to always unplug these when leaving a tree unattended.

A word about Christmas pot plants. Don’t neglect their care. It’s easy to forget them in the midst of your seasonal preparations. Put them in a cool, light place. A fine spray with tepid water will help them settle in. Top of the list is the beautiful poinsettia; keep it in good light and allow the compost to dry, then water it thoroughly. Feed it every 10 days with a liquid fertiliser (tomato food is fine). Avoid draughts at all times.

Solarum – the Christmas cherries (remember the berries are toxic). They really are a festive plant and need good light. Water them when dry and feed them as well. The azalea needs good light. Keep its compost moistened and liquid feed it every 10 days.

Saint Paulia (African violet). This needs bright light and you should only water it when the compost starts to dry out a little, not before this.

Kalanchoe – these are succulents. Bright light is essential to them and they should be watered moderately.

A bowl of hyacinths will fill your room with festive scent. Careful watering is required. Plant it in the garden after flowering.

Finally, don’t forget our feathered friends through the winter months. Garden birds appreciate a Christmas dinner too! However, once you start to feed the birds you must keep it up throughout the winter. They quickly come to rely on your generosity. A shallow, daily dish of fresh water is appreciated.

As Christmas draws close and the promise of a New Year beckons, it is my hope and prayer that after all the presents have been unwrapped and the wrapping paper discarded, there will be a real and lasting peace in our hearts, our homes and our country.

Happy Christmas to you and yours.