Christmas-flowering plants have long been a special interest of Clive Lane, administrator of the The Cottage Garden Society, and he reported being sent a list of 63 plants in flower on Christmas Day by a member in the north west. And way back in 1908, The Garden magazine published a long list sent by a reader in Falmouth, Cornwall.
I’ve been keeping an eye on these lists over the years and can make some suggestions of plants to choose for Christmas bloom. Of course, I must point out that not only will warmer parts of the country usually have longer lists but that warm and sheltered situations, in rich but well-drained soil and sheltered from icy winds, are likely to house more Christmas flowers than those growing by an exposed north-facing fence in the same garden.
We first tend to think of hellebores (also known as Christmas roses) and recent introductions from Germany such as Helleborus niger ‘HGC Jacob’ and ‘HGC Josef Lemper’ (pictured right) have been specially developed to actually flower at Christmas, and often earlier, and they join the old favourite H. orientalis subsp. abchasicus Early Purple Group.
Snowdrops can feature too: especially ‘Three Ships’, the Winter-flowering Group of Galanthus reginae-olgae and G. elwesii Hiemalis Group. ‘Faringdon Double’ is probably the most reliable double for Christmas.
In its various forms, Viburnum tinus seems to be a dependable Christmas flowering evergreen shrub and in ‘Gwenllian’ the white flowers are preceded by pink buds, while in ‘Eve Price’ the flowers themselves are pink tinted. In sarcococcas, the Christmas box, the flowers are less showy but the scent is wonderful.
Daphnes (such as Daphne bholua, shown left) also combine colour with fragrance but are a little more demanding of a sheltered site to encourage Christmas flowering than sarcococcas. Camellias too (such as Camellia hiemalis 'Shishigashira' - see photo, top), appreciate a cosy corner, and shelter from morning sun. Sasanqua camellias flower especially early, from autumn to early or mid-winter.
Finally, the humble polyanthus appears on many people’s Christmas lists – the problem is that no one colour and no one cultivar seems more dependable than the others. But give them a try too