For the last three days I have been trawling Europe’s trade fairs searching for the next big thing in the world of Christmas. I hate to disappoint, but there is no such thing as ‘the next big thing’ when it comes to our favourite celebration of the year. It’s traditional, and that’s exactly how it should be. My job is purely to gild the lily. So I am not about to bore you with baubles or worry you with wrap, but I wouldn’t mind hassling you with a hellebore and mithering you with some muscari – if you can bear it.
There’s a lot of artificial stuff displayed at these shows, but at Christmas World in Frankfurt the high-end brands use real plants and flowers to enhance their extravagant displays. For a keen gardener this offers not only respite from the omnipresent elves, santas and snowmen, but also inspiration for spring floral displays. I particularly loved one arrangement of lime-green hellebores in a nest woven from delicately rolled paper. The glass baubles could easily be replaced by hens’ eggs for a pretty Easter display.
Muscari and hyacinths featured extensively, the scent of the latter employed to drag punters off the aisles and onto trade stands. Both flowers are incredibly versatile when grown indoors, single bulbs of muscari looking cute emerging from tiny bottles or test tubes, and graceful when planted en-masse in pots, bowls and even hessian sacks. True hyacinths are more brutish, but their perfume is unrivalled. I am already looking forward to enjoying my outdoor displays of purple H. ‘Woodstock’ and peachy H. ‘Gypsy Queen’, wishing I had planted more for inside.
As long as good drainage can be provided, almost any pot, receptacle or vessel will look attractive planted up with bulbs. They make great gifts or table decorations. Start the bulbs off in autumn, planting a succession of different varieties to see you through from December to April. Keep in a cool room and move into bright light once the flower stems start to emerge, watering sparingly. When the flowers begin to open they’re ready to take the limelight. Push moss or decorative gravel around the bulbs for neatness and to retain moisture. Supporting twigs are helpful with taller bulbs such as Paperwhite narcissi. All that’s left to do is sit back and enjoy the show.