It is easy to fall in with the bah-humbug crowd this time of year when the faint sound of sleigh bells can be heard in every other radio advertisement from November onwards. But just spare a thought for our Glasshouse displays horticulturist Paul, who has to start planning his Christmas in March.
It is in spring that Paul chooses the varieties of poinsettia he will be growing for his Christmas display in the temperate zone of the Glasshouse at RHS Garden Wisley. He has to get in there early to beat the commercial sector, which would otherwise hoover up the best plants. That done, Paul can then relax and enjoy the garden until July arrives and with it his order of poinsettia plugs demanding attention.
Poinsettias are potted into our general potting compost with added perlite for drainage, and covered with fleece for a week and placed on a heated bench to aid establishment. After that the tips are pinched out to help the plants bush out and in early September they are spaced out and provided with ‘night-break’ lighting.
Poinsettias are short-day plants, which means that as the nights draw in, the plant’s ‘bracts’ (essentially coloured leaves) want to colour up. To delay this, supplementary lighting is provided to artificially extend the day length for three weeks so that the plants colour up later in time for December.
Our poinsettia varieties
Once the poinsettias, all 400 of them, are spaced in the growing house they gradually start to change colour and there is a sea of rich reds, salmon pinks and pure whites for the propagation team to enjoy each time we walk past Paul’s glasshouse to go for our tea break. This year Paul has grown poinsettia ‘Infinity Red’, ‘Primero Red Glitter’, ‘Premium Marble’, ‘Infinity Polar’ and ‘Scandic Hot Pink’.
They have now been moved down to The Glasshouse and look spectacular, displayed on a giant metal Christmas tree with contrasting colours spiralling down. Ornamental chilli and Solanum plants add equally bright notes in the arrangement with their natural baubles.
Once Paul has created a little piece of Christmas for everyone to enjoy he doesn’t stop there. He stands in his glasshouse with Grinch-like grin pumping festive tunes out the door so nobody can forget what is approaching. Much nearer the holidays he can sometimes be seen wearing his special Christmas hat, which wiggles of its own accord on top of his head with the aid of a couple of AA batteries.
Keeping your poinsettia for another year