Narcissi from the florist and twigs from the garden
Narcissi from the florist and
twigs from the garden

As we all rush towards Christmas willy-nilly – or it towards us – it is all too easy to become absorbed in the usual commercial hype, and forget that it is meant to be a time of peace and goodwill. And what better way to take stock than to walk around the garden and mentally note what could be cut and brought indoors to beautify your living space. Truly, it can have a calming influence, as I found when I clipped a spray of hazel to add to this vase of paperwhites.  Normally, I would have had my own already in flower but this year has not gone according to plan and nothing garden-wise is as it should be. So I bought these, to support a newly-opened local florist in town.

Clipped in stages to maintain continuity of winter flowering
Clipped in stages to maintain
continuity of winter flowering

Evergreens are much in evidence within our acre, from clipped box to sprawling ivy, hollies of various types which are a mass of berries until the birds steal them, and the silvery-sage scimitar-leaved eucalyptus planted in the orchard hedge. And right outside our back door is a magnificent specimen of the evergreen Viburnum tinus ‘Eve Price’ planted to remind me of days in Italy when container-grown specimens surrounded outdoor ristorante. Mine outgrew its large terracotta pot some while back, cracked it in fact, but no matter as the hrub, clipped regularly, still thrives and hides ugly calor-gas cylinders! Other pleasures at this time of year within sight of our kitchen window are brightly-berried cotoneasters and pyracantha, and in flower the sweetly-scented deciduous Viburnum farreri / fragrans – its abundant pale pink flowers a joy on a dull day.

Mahonia 'Charity'
Mahonia ‘Charity’

Equally joyous is our sentinel evergreen Mahonia x media ‘Charity’ with spikes of golden sweetly-scented flowers that literally glow against a dark sky; dense yet easily controlled, ours shelters us from the night-time glare of lights from the pub across the road. Bees and other insects love the nectar – and readers of this blog will be pleased to learn that plants are now available online from Dobies – in fact the website lists four pages of trees and shrubs that will delight the eye and provide cover and food for wildlife as well.


Camellia vernalis 'Yuletide' - a birthday gift
Camellia vernalis ‘Yuletide’ – a birthday gift

Indoors our deep windowsills provide space for a selection of plants brought in from outdoors – they would not withstand our cold north-Cotswold climate, although to date we have had hardly a touch of frost, but northeasterly winds have been colder and stronger than in most years. So scented pelargoniums now release their fragrance whenever I touch their leaves – they miss the hot sunshine and bright light level of summer, but keeping the shoots pinched back will I hope stand them in good stead when threat of frost is past and I can move them outdoors again into the herb garden. Scented, too, are the flowers of a recent acquisition to which I succumbed – the bright red single flowers of Camellia vernalis ‘Yuletide’ with neater evergreen leaves than the japonica varieties. I grew camellias for a number of years when we lived in Surrey but had not come across these early flowering varieties (November to January) which can be grown in a pot if desired – mine is now temporarily in the living room but will go into the revamped shrubbery-cum-herbaceous area in the Spring. Dobies usually stock japonica varieties whose flowering period is between February and April.

‘The Flower Recipe Book’ by Alethea Harampolis & Jill Rizzo cover
‘The Flower Recipe Book’ by Alethea Harampolis & Jill Rizzo

Whilst thinking about the garden from the comfort of my workroom (I’ve come inside out of the drizzle!) – I’m indulging in a little retail therapy and making notes of how I hope the garden could develop next year. I hold in my hands a copy of a recently published title, ‘The Flower Recipe Book’ by Alethea Harampolis & Jill Rizzo. Oh this makes the heart sing – this is a book for anyone who loves to create floral displays that look natural, nothing contrived or stiff, in simple yet striking containers. There are ‘recipes’ for 100 magical, sculptural and seasonal step-by-step arrangements with basics for rules that aren’t rules but meant to be broken so you can use or substitute what you like. You’ll soon be thinking colour and shape and form – work your way through the book now, analyse what you like, what you already grow, what you don’t but wish you did, and consider how you could replace plant material that does not suit your circumstances. Illustrations are simply gorgeous and techniques are clearly explained. Your home will never be the same again. Published by Artisan, buy it online here.

‘Herbal Antivirals’ by Stephen Harrod Buhner cover
‘Herbal Antivirals’ by Stephen Harrod Buhner

Feeding the soul is one thing, but it is equally important to care for the body, and my other suggested addition to your bookshelf is ‘Herbal Antivirals’ by Stephen Harrod Buhner. Published this month by Storey Publishing, and subtitled “natural remedies for emerging and resistant viral infections”, this title follows SHB’s former book, ‘Herbal Antibiotics’ and is a treatise on herbal medicine and herbal plants. As I am no expert in the medical field, and indeed – though a lover of herbal tea – have absolutely no knowledge of the use of plants to combat viruses, let me offer instead the publisher’s press information that I received along with the book itself: “Emerging viruses are becoming more virile and aggressive, and traditional medications are becoming less effective against them. The author offers in-depth instructions on how to prepare and use herbal formulations to strengthen the immune system and treat vital infections”. Interesting that I was given homemade elderberry syrup as a child in the late 30s to combat sore-throats and colds (to which I was prone). Buy it online here.

Next week, as a further prelude to the festive season, I’ll touch on how gardens influence our lives. Meanwhile, don’t forget to visit the Dobies website for last minute Christmas gifts.

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