Every Christmas day, it’s my challenge to see what I can gather in the garden to make a bouquet.
As a devotee of the works of the late Rosemary Verey, for some years now, each Christmas morning, I’ve gone around the garden to see what’s in flower.
Ms Verey’s book The Garden in Winter is what first gave me the idea. Winter is my most dismal time of year and by February, after months of rain and fog I’m usually at a very low ebb. So when I first began to plant my garden, about seven years ago, my first priority was winter interest.
I’ve never bothered with herbaceous planting, as it will take me the next 20 years just to get the backbone of this garden in, so my focus has always been on trees and shrubs. That’s paying off in spades now, which is the happiest part of woody plants – they may be expensive to buy, and an effort to plant, but every year they just get better and better.
Quite by accident, this year my bouquet contains more flowers than other winter interest (berry, bark and evergreen leaves). The biggest surprise was the Graham Thomas roses, of which there were half a dozen still in bloom on Christmas Day. My Graham Thomas is a complete thug and flowers prolifically despite its windswept Western-facing site. Each year the wind rips it free of the wall and today I’ll cut it to the ground in the hope that the new growth will face upwards rather than straight out at 45 degrees.
Also in flower was rosa Evelyn, another English Rose by David Austin, and much more tender. So too was mahonia media ‘Charity’, planted over the body of our beloved cat Worthing, and abelia grandiflora with its pinkish flowers and modest, shiny evergreen leaves.
An unknown spiraea which flowered in the spring and once again in autumn this year has lent its tiny white flowers, and my subtle parrotia persica is in flower too, with tiny dark-red flowers encased in brown velvet, which betray its relationship with the witch hazels. Real hazels come next, with their dull winter catkins, and finally, there is the mimosa, often cut to the ground by the Normandy winter, but always reappearing, a little forward of its old site. Its flowers are still in bud, but if it makes it through the winter, they’ll be heads of fluffy, yellow, vanilla scent by March.
Yesterday I forewent the peeling bark of rosa roxburghii, preferring to let it grow a little more before I prune it, but I took the dark red twigs of cornus ‘Gottschaud’, the fiery-red twigs of cornus sanguinea ‘Winter Beauty’ and the egg-yolk yellow stems of salix vitellina. For a bit of structure, I also added stems of salix tortuosa – the Devil’s Claw Willow – which has shot to 20ft high in six years in spite of the steep, barren north-facing slope on which it’s planted.
The lovely red berries – disliked by the birds – are from cotoneaster cornubia, which shares that same slope and even though it was split right in half by the wind five years ago, still towers over my head.
Walking around the garden in the bitter weather is a wonderful reminder that the earth isn’t really dead and that plants need their winter hibernation like human beings need their sleep. Gathering my Christmas Day bouquet each year gives me a real lift, with its memories of summer and the promise of spring.