COLUMN: The various plants of Christmas

Hardy winter colour is a garden ‘must have,’ and Christmas Rose (Helleborus niger) ‘Jacob” and ‘Josef Lemper’ top the list.

  • Dec. 18, 2011 5:00 a.m.
Holly and other berries add colour to a winter scene.

Holly and other berries add colour to a winter scene.

by Brian Minter

Hardy winter colour is a garden ‘must have,’ and the new hardy, early blooming varieties of Christmas Rose (Helleborus niger) ‘Jacob” and ‘Josef Lemper’ top the list.

Their vibrant white blooms brighten any dark winter landscape, and they can even be used inside as cut flowers for a focal point on your Christmas table.  Widely available, they’re in bloom now and make a wonderful living gift.

Winter berries add so much interest to a winter landscape.  The most valuable is the deciduous winter holly called Ilex verticillata.  Its stunning winter red berries are in high demand for wreaths, outdoor baskets and containers and for indoor centrepieces.  I love the stems just as they are in a glass vase indoors or out on the patio.  You need both male and female plants to get these beautiful bird-friendly berries, and today, good growers have planted both in one pot for immediate planting.

Wintergreen (Gautheria procumbens) is a beautiful low evergreen ground cover with rich deep green leaves, is almost continuous flowering and has edible red berries.  Available in smaller pots, they make wonderful winter focal points in containers or as companions for white winter heather or Christmas roses.

Growing a little taller, a wonderful crab apple called Malus ‘Red Sentinel’ makes a great clean spring flowering screen or small shade tree.  Its vibrant shiny large red fruits sparkle in winter.  It’s like no other smaller tree as it’s loaded with hard fruits that are nice to enjoy on the tree, as cut branches in your outdoor décor or as a garnish on Christmas dinner plates.  A frost or two will make them edible.

A prickly little plant that survives nicely outside in our toughest winters is a dwarf slow growing Butcher’s Broom (Ruscus ‘Christmas Berry’).  It berries up nicely by itself, spreads slowly and  beautifully complements any of its outdoor companions, like dwarf colourful conifers and low golden heathers.  They look spectacular by themselves in clay pots with a few blueberry twigs tucked in.

Traditional holly trees have all but disappeared in our smaller space gardens and what a shame! To the rescue comes a new self-fertile, compact, hardy (zone 6) holly called ‘Red Beauty’.  It grows only five to seven feet tall and four feet wide, making it a great focal point, container plant or a fabulous hedge.   ‘Red Beauty’ presents a new opportunity for holly in the landscape.  It’s a keeper!

Most camellias are rated as zone 7 plants and need a little protection in the coldest winter conditions. However, one stands out from all the rest.  Camellia ‘Yuletide’ is a beauty.  It’s a sasanqua camellia, which means it blooms from late November through April with pure red blooms that have vibrant yellow anthers.  Talk about ‘the’ Christmas outdoor plant. It celebrates Christmas all by itself.

Amaryllis has become the ‘hot’ plant. It is now popular as cut flowers used to celebrate the season. I love putting the stems inside a tall glass vase where they look so elegant and last a long while if kept cool.

The newest plant to adorn our indoors is the beautiful ardisia. We’ve grown these plants for a month now.  The new growth has burst into soft green leaves that make a nice contrast to the rich dark ones and to the delightful red berries that adorn the lower portion of the plant. Ardisias are going to be a winter classic for years to come – so watch out, poinsettias!

Finding a true Christmas cactus that most of our grandmothers had in their homes 50 years ago is hard, but not impossible.  Schlumbergera bridgesii is a smooth-leafed cactus with hot-pink flowers that actually bloom only at Christmas.  It’s an heirloom plant that is so easy to grow and is handed down from generation to generation.  Start a new tradition in your family this year.

Another wonderful old tradition is to have ‘Paperwhite’ narcissus in our homes for the holiday season. Some people,       have a love-hate relationship with the spectacular perfume of ‘Paperwhites.’ Like amaryllis, their long flower stems look stunning in a tall clear glass vase. You can still pick up bulbs that will bloom for the holidays if you keep them cool in a fancy glass dish with water and some colourful stones on the bottom, and started plants are always available at this time of year.

If you do any Christmas cooking, bay leaves are a must-have to flavour meats.  We have a ten footer outside our door that we enjoy both as a landscape plant and as a source of fresh leaves all year round.  Cut stems add interest and fragrance to Christmas wreaths.

They’re a little hard to find at this time of year, but herb growers have them. Treat it as a cool winter loving plant that needs to be outdoors all year round with a little winter protection in severe cold.

It could become one of your most-loved garden plants.

Brian Minter’s column appears throughout the Lower Mainland. Contact him at newsroom@abbynews.com.

 

Just Posted

Chilliwack Fire Department on scene at a house fire on Boundary Road and No. 4 Road on Thursday, June 17, 2021. (David Seltenrich/ Facebook)
Fire crews respond to house fire on border of Chilliwack and Abbotsford

Flames, dark smoke reported coming from front of house when crews arrived

Brandon Hobbs (turquoise shirt), brother of missing Abbotsford man Adam Hobbs, gathers with other family and friends to distribute posters in Chilliwack on Thursday, June 17, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Search efforts expand to Chilliwack and beyond for missing Abbotsford man

Family, friends put up posters in Chilliwack, Agassiz, Hope for missing 22-year-old Adam Hobbs

AHL president and CEO Scott Howson believes the new Abbotsford franchise is off to a strong early start. (AHL photo)
AHL president: ‘Tremendous success’ selling season ticket deposits for Abbotsford franchise

President and CEO Scott Howson optimistic about new Vancouver Canucks affiliate in Abbotsford

Stock photo by LEEROY Agency from Pixabay
Drop-in vaccination clinics slated in Abbotsford for construction workers

Among three sites in Lower Mainland holding no-appointment clinics in June and July

A CH-149 Cormorant from 442 Transport and Rescue Squadron out of CFB Comox on a training exercise in Chilliwack on June 16, 2021. (William Snow photo)
VIDEO: Military search and rescue training in Chilliwack Wednesday

CH-149 Cormorant and CC-115 Buffalo from CFB Comox participated in downed aircraft rescue simulation

People line up to get their COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre, Thursday, June 10, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Vaccines, low COVID case counts increase Father’s Day hope, but risk is still there

Expert says people will have to do their own risk calculus before popping in on Papa

Helen Austin performing with Trent Freeman at the 2018 Vancouver Island MusicFest. Austin is one of the many performers listed for the 2021 event.
Vancouver Island MusicFest goes virtual for 2021

Black Press to stream 25 hours of programming July 9-11

FILE – A science class at L.A. Matheson Secondary in Surrey, B.C. on March 12, 2021. (Lauren Collins/Surrey Now Leader)
Teachers’ union wants more COVID transmission data as B.C. prepares for back-to-school

BCTF says that details will be important as province works on plan for September

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry outlines B.C.’s COVID-19 restart plan, May 25, 2021, including larger gatherings and a possible easing of mandatory masks on July 1. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. records 120 new COVID-19 cases, second vaccines accelerating

Lower Pfizer deliveries for early July, Moderna shipments up

A Heffley Creek peacock caught not one - but two - lifts on a logging truck this month. (Photo submitted)
Heffley Creek-area peacock hops logging trucks in search of love

Peacock hitched two lifts in the past month

The Calgary skyline is seen on Friday, Sept. 15, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
2 deaths from COVID-19 Delta variant in Alberta, 1 patient was fully immunized

Kerry Williamson with Alberta Health Services says the patients likely acquired the virus in the hospital

The first suspension bridge is the tallest in Canada, with a second suspension bridge just below it. The two are connected by a trail that’s just over 1 km. (Claire Palmer photo)
PHOTOS: The highest suspension bridges in Canada just opened in B.C.

The Skybridge in Golden allows visitors to take in views standing at 130 and 80 metres

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

BC Green Party leader and Cowichan Valley MLA Sonia Furstenau introduced a petition to the provincial legislature on Thursday calling for the end of old-growth logging in the province. (File photo)
BC Green leader Furstenau introduces old-growth logging petition

Party calls for the end of old-growth logging as protests in Fairy Creek continue

Most Read