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.

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

/ Kevin Mills Photo
Hundreds participate in solidarity parade for transgender student who was bullied

Cars, horses and even planes passed by the Mission waterfront to show support

An amethyst rock was stolen from Swinstones Granite Shop’s showroom in Chilliwack on Yale Rd. West, and they are hoping it will be spotted and returned. They discovered their window smashed and the purple rock stolen on the morning of Jan. 17, 2020. Here a portion of it is pictured to the right. (Submitted image)
Amethyst stolen from Chilliwack stone shop’s showroom

Window smashed at business where purple rock has been on display for nearly 16 years

sdf
Another Mission student arrested for assault, in 2nd case of in-school violence this week

RCMP notified of local Instagram page with videos (now deleted) showing student assaults, bullying

BCCDC photo.
16 school exposures in Abbotsford schools in 2 weeks

Fraser Health’s list grows by 11 for 2nd week of 2021

Two people on a paddleboard take advantage of a calm Cultus Lake on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
WEATHER: Forecast calls for lots of sun in Fraser Valley this coming week

Most of next seven days will be sunny for eastern Fraser Valley, according to Environment Canada

A scene from “Canada and the Gulf War: In their own words,” a video by The Memory Project, a program of Historica Canada, is shown in this undated illustration. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Historica Canada
New video marks Canada’s contributions to first Gulf War on 30th anniversary

Veterans Affairs Canada says around 4,500 Canadian military personnel served during the war

A 17-year-old snowmobiler used his backcountry survival sense in preparation to spend the night on the mountain near 100 Mile House Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021 after getting lost. (South Cariboo Search and Rescue Facebook photo)
Teen praised for backcountry survival skills after getting lost in B.C.’s Cariboo mountains

“This young man did everything right after things went wrong.”

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa on December 10, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
No place for ‘far right’ in Conservative Party, Erin O’Toole says

O’Toole condemned the Capitol attack as ‘horrifying’ and sought to distance himself and the Tories from Trumpism

A passer by walks in High Park, in Toronto, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. This workweek will kick off with what’s fabled to be the most depressing day of the year, during one of the darkest eras in recent history. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
‘Blue Monday’ getting you down? Exercise may be the cure, say experts

Many jurisdictions are tightening restrictions to curb soaring COVID-19 case counts

Pindie Dhaliwal, one of the organizers for the Surrey Challo protest for Indian farmers. She says organizers were told by Surrey RCMP that the event was not allowed due to COVID-19. Organizers ended up moving the protest to Strawberry Hill at the last minute. (Photo: Lauren Collins)
Indian farmers rally moves as organizers say Surrey RCMP told them they couldn’t gather

Protest originally planned in Cloverdale, moved to Strawberry Hill

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
COVID-19: Provinces work on revised plans as Pfizer-BioNTech shipments to slow down

Anita Anand said she understands and shares Canadians’ concerns about the drug company’s decision

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

Tourists take photographs outside the British Columbia Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday August 26, 2011. A coalition of British Columbia tourism industry groups is urging the provincial government to not pursue plans to ban domestic travel to fight the spread of COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. travel ban will harm struggling tourism sector, says industry coalition

B.C. government would have to show evidence a travel ban is necessary

(Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
‘Targeted’ shooting in Coquitlam leaves woman in hospital

The woman suffered non-life threatening injuries in what police believe to be a targeted shooting Saturday morning

Most Read