December 11th: Evergreen
My garden goes into limbo during December. It’s trapped somewhere between autumn and winter, quivering in a chilled green aspic. All colour other than green has been drained by the cold and desiccated by the wind, leaving me with pots and borders that are either empty and grey, or overflowing with lush greenery. Frosts have yet to reach this coastal corner of Kent and probably won’t until the New Year, if they arrive at all. Some years we escape, other years we do not.
Plants from the Canary Islands and Madeira always put on an impressive growth spurt before Christmas. I assume this is because they choose to do their growing during the cooler, wetter months in their native habitat. If anyone knows better I would be pleased to be put right. The Madeira cranesbill, Geranium maderense, takes off at incredible pace, throwing out huge, finely-divided leaves in all directions, swamping anything nearby before stapling it to the ground. An established plant might measure 6ft across by March. Geranium maderense seedlings begin appearing everywhere in December, as they did after the Beast from the East in April. I have never needed to sow a single seed, apart from when I introduced ‘Guernsey White’, which is a most splendid variety with white petals around a magenta eye. Whether my tender geraniums survive to bloom in April, or whether they are reduced to black skeletons resembling abandoned umbrellas, remains to be seen. I have my fingers and toes firmly crossed.
During December I can keep my garden ticking over on a couple of hours work a week. I can’t spare a great deal more than that. Sweeping up is a routine task that I enjoy. It’s one of those transformative tasks like trimming a hedge or edging a lawn that can instantly make a garden look crisp and well cared for. The main issue I have is with the incessant wind, which turns sweeping into more of a game than a chore. The latest plant to shed its leaves is Rosa banksiae ‘Lutea’, a climber which is now swamping its host tree and may have to get the chop before spring arrives.
Whilst I enjoy the simple greenness of the garden in December, I do like to supplement it with white flowers. Winter is the only time of the year when I show any restraint in the garden, perhaps because I am going wild with colour indoors. White cyclamen are my ‘go to’ plants. They are resistant to cold and unphased by strong winds, producing perky little flowers above silver foliage for months on end. These hybrid cyclamen dislike damp and enjoy good ventilation, hence I plant them proud of the soil surface to allow air to circulate and prevent grey mould setting in. The little white flowers produce a sweet, delicate scent, discernible even on a cold day. It’s a wonderful treat to catch the perfume drifting across the garden as I chase those infernal leaves with my broom. TFG.
P.S. Apologies for the quality of lead image. The idea was good (I think) but time was short and the lighting very poor!