Balmy Boxing Day


I began my traditional Boxing Day post last year by commenting on the unusually mild weather that lead up to Christmas. Had I known then what I know now, I may well have made less of it: the UK is about to record its warmest ever December, with temperatures 4°C above average for the time of year. Perhaps ‘warm’ Decembers are becoming the norm, leaving January and February to deliver the big freeze, or maybe the last couple of years have been anomalies? No-one really knows, not even the Met Office. All that’s predictable about the British weather is that it’s unpredictable. Us gardeners just have to dress accordingly and get on with it.


The impact of an extended autumn cum early spring on garden flowers has been significant. Many are confused. In Cornwall my dad has reported camellias blooming alongside hydrangeas and in our London garden the hellebores, which I expect to flower in late February, are already in full bloom.


Primula vulgaris ‘Taigetos’ is peeping out before the nasturtiums have even been blackened by frost and our alpine strawberries are still bearing fruit, albeit pallid looking ones. It’s all very topsy-turvy.

After a refreshingly slow start to Boxing Day (the last few weeks have finally caught up with us both), we set off for our customary walk from Highgate across Hampstead Heath to Hampstead, with one or two cosy hostelries along the way. I noted all sorts of unusual plants in bloom, including libertia, bearded irises, anthirrhinums, hardy geraniums, honeysuckle, campanulas and even Abutilon megapotamicum flowering happily against a south facing wall. Near the Ghana High Commission I spied this colourful correa, which might perhaps be C. ‘Marian’s Marvel’.

In Merton Lane, where last year I admired the daffodils, there were also snowdrops aplenty.


Hampstead Heath is looking rather like a war zone thanks to the ongoing Ponds Project. This controversial programme, involving the re-inforcement of the dams that retain a series of man-made ponds, has involved a tremendous amount of earth work, which equals one thing: mud. How we laughed at the poor dog walkers as their pampered pooches rolled gleefully in the gloopy clay whilst they tried in vain to prevent them. The upholstery cleaners of North London will enjoy a busy New Year. The Ponds Project has its own WordPress blog which is well worth a read.


Hampstead Heath is a precious slice of countryside in the heart of London and a haven for wildlife including kingfishers jackdaws and pipistrelle bats. I love to see the venerable oaks and fallen willows riddled with fungi, mosses and lichens, providing a home for millions of insects, food for the birds and nutrition for the soil.


Arriving in Hampstead we paced the ‘old money’ streets, admiring luxurious wreaths and carefully tended front gardens bedded with cyclamen.


In the very same place I first encountered Sophora microphylla I admired it flowering once again, about four months early. 


Nearby a profusion of cheery Chaenomeles blossom caught my eye, weaving its way through a fine Regency fence.


It was almost dark by the time we reached home. Coats, hats and gloves had been superfluous: we needed cooling down rather than warming up. I peered gingerly out of the terrace doors to see what damage had been done. Over the last month or so our London garden has been ravaged by an urban fox and his unsavoury pals. A handsome creature, I am resisting giving him a name as I don’t wish to become in any way attached. The garden reeks from where he’s been marking his territory. All of our tulip and garlic bulbs have been exhumed, the goldfish have been molested (although none missing so far) and there are pronounced tracks running every which way across the borders. We are greatly in need of a humane deterrent: answers on a postcard please!

Here’s hoping you enjoyed a bloom or two this balmy Boxing Day and have your feet up in front of a toasty fire with a good book. It’s all back to normal tomorrow 😉