December in the Blackberry garden

Written by Alison Levey – award winning Garden blogger

December is upon us already. I love the garden this month, it is when we descend into the darkest of nights and shortest of days and a time when I think the little things have to be appreciated more and more.

I love the crisp frosts that appear in this month, though I often feel it is a month of rain more than snow. Snow tends to arrive in my neck of the woods mid/late January which is when I think winter really makes its presence known.

Fragrance really matters in my garden in the winter months. I would say almost more than in the summer months when scent is all around the garden. In December I patrol the garden: I inspect the Edgeworthia chrysantha, which is heavily in bud and will start to pop each flowerlet open releasing its heady lily-ish fragrance as January starts to progress. The Edgeworthia is one of the few divas I allow in the garden as it needs that mythical ‘moist/well-drained’ condition. I am lucky that appear to have a small area that seems to fit this bill.  It is an enclosed part of the garden bounded by a rose hedge and the boundary hedge which means it is protected from wind. This little nook has kept my Edgeworthia alive for a good ten years now and has developed into a nice mature shrub. If you have space and the right conditions for this shrub it is well worth giving it a go.

Not far from the Edgeworthia I have a Hamamelis Arnolds Promise. This Hamamelis is worthy of space in any garden. It has tassels of golden flowers in the winter that start to unfurl themselves gently in December. They give a glimpse of gold, a bit like Gypsy Rose Lee peeling off her first evening glove and then once the year turns it cascades into its fringy wonderfulness. Whilst Hamamelis are also generally scented, I confess I have never really found this one to be so.

Mahonias are also a good choice for winter colour and scent. I grow a rather large one called ‘Sweet Charity’, but they come in all sizes so you should be able to find one to suit. They too have good scent and are excellent for late pollinators.

My final scent recommendation is the Winter Honeysuckle: Lonicera fragrantissima. This is always described as not the most exciting of shrubs for ten months of the year, but oh it is so worth it for when it is in flower. Another ‘perfect for late pollinators’ shrub, but a scent that I cross the street to discover. I have one by my front gate and one at the top of the garden. The scent wafts strongly and I always know it is in flower before having to go and look. Yes it is just a green shrub for the summer months, but some nice soothing green never goes amiss.

December is a good time of year to prune and tidy trees and shrubs. Unless they are apple/plum trees which can be pruned in winter but you will encourage lots of ‘water shoots’ in the growing season. These are strong vigorous upward pointing shoots that grow quickly. If you prune fruit trees in the summer whilst they are in fruit, yes you will lose some fruit but you will also curb that speedy growth and the pruning will have more effect for longer. Not only does pruning help keep your trees/shrubs healthy, I always enjoy that it lets more light into the garden and in the winter months light feels so precious. I love winter sunlight but also how the different moods of the sky create different moods in the garden.

If you have room for only one winter flowering plant in your garden then the one I would recommend is the Clematis chyrrhosa. This winter flowering clematis can grow up a trellis, an obelisk, a tree, anything you can think of and it will flower for months. Mine starts flowering late November/early December and will continue to do so until March. It is fantastic for late/early pollinators and is easy as easy to grow. I always recommend this plant if asked for a winter flower or if you only have room for one clematis. It is my go-to climber.

The hardy annuals are still growing strong in December. It is not unusual for me to have a Cerinthe or two trying to flower beyond when they should.  I observe the seedlings that grow so strongly and always think they will never get through the snowy days, but they always do. And whilst I speak to tidying and weeding, it is never good to be too tidy. Plant skeletons are beautiful things and add delight and interest to the winter garden plus somewhere for insects to over winter. Yes some of them will be slugs, but you can’t have everything.

Have a wonderful festive season and if you have faith celebrations I wish you and your families every joy.

Alison Levey

www.blackberrygarden.co.uk

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