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Plant Centre, Garden & Cafe
East Bergholt Place, Suffolk

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas! Well the home grown trees are cut and ready for sale, Holly and Mistletoe gathered and Wreaths made so the nursery is looking very festive. We have decorated the shop and put together a lovely display of gifts too. I really enjoy the run up to Christmas and all that glitter that goes with it. With this in mind I am looking at the plants that you can use for decoration in this month’s blog. Don’t forget also that you can still book on to Sara’s Wreath Making Course, further details here. Perhaps you can bring along cuttings from some of the plants we look at in this blog.

 

Cotoneaster ‘Cornubia’ – A very Christmassy plant which is covered in red berries which the birds, especially Thrushes, adore. It is evergreen but can lose a few leaves if we get a very cold winter. It is ideal for any soil as long as it does not sit wet during the winter and makes a handsome tree. It can be pruned to keep it under control or grown as a hedge. It makes quite a dramatic plant when grown against a wall where it can be trained to encourage flower and berry production. The berries last well when cut to be added to wreaths and it looks great added to table decorations.

Above: Cotoneaster ‘Cornubia’

 

Hedera helix – AKA: Ivy. A beautiful native plant that really comes into its own at this time of the year. The lovely flower spikes have just finished and the berries are now swelling and are ideal to use in arrangements. I have some water pipes that are exposed in our kitchen and I always dress these with Ivy and Holly and some other evergreens and then hang baubles or orange segments from them, it looks great and is very simple to do. Ivy is a very useful plant in the garden as it will grow almost anywhere and is very good in those difficult areas such as dry shade. It can be used as ground cover or to grow up a very dark wall. This also creates good nesting sites for secretive birds such as Wrens.

 

Above: Hedera helix

 

Skimmia japonica ‘Female’ – An evergreen shrub that is female. If you want berries you will need to get a male form as well such as Skimmia japonica ‘Rubella’. The latter also has handsome flower spikes in March and beautiful pink buds throughout the winter.

These prefer a slightly acid soil and like to be grown in the shade so are ideal for that difficult dark corner on the patio or courtyard where they need to be grown in pots. This variety produces large fat shiny red berries that are generally too big for birds to swallow. They are very useful to add to wreaths and last for quite a while in arrangements.

 

Above: Skimmia japonica ‘Female’

 

Cedrus deodara-Deodar Cedar– A very large statuesque tree that produces tiered open branches that weep slightly. Branches are covered in light glossy needles. This Cedar is not a tree for a small garden but it does make a bold statement if you have some space to grow it. Because of its lax habit on the new growth it is a good foliage for putting around the base of an arrangement or for draping over picture frames or along the mantelpiece.

It combines well with Holly and Ivy and can be used in making garlands for draping over the banisters or around doorways.

 

Above: Cedrus deodara-Deodar Cedar

 

Ilex ‘Nellie Stevens’-  AKA ‘Holly’. You cannot talk foliage for Christmas without mentioning Holly. This is not a form of our native holly but it is as good. I. ‘Nellie Stevens’ is hermaphrodite and so, unlike the native holly, you do not need separate male and female plants for berries.

Like all hollies it is easy to grow and will tolerate all sorts of aspects and soil types. The only thing it dislikes is very wet soil. This plant is ideal for a wildlife garden or for that area of the garden where access is difficult. They are easily pruned to keep under control and grow very well in pots if you want to make a statement either side of a doorway. They need little attention except the odd watering to get it established.

 

 

Above: Ilex ‘Nellie Stevens’

 

Garrya elliptica ‘James Roof’- AKA: Tassel Bush. Ideal for a shady wall or woodland garden. This lovely evergreen shrub produces long silvery-green catkins which can be up to 15cm (6”) in length. These appear now but will unfurl to release their pollen in early spring.

These long catkins can be used in wreaths and other Christmas decorations and last very well. It is a large growing shrub but is quite slow and so takes a while to establish. It is quite an eye catcher when the catkins are fully extended and will tolerate a cold position which makes it ideal for a north facing wall.

 

Above: Garrya elliptica ‘James Roof’

 
Picea abies – Norway Spruce or ‘Christmas Tree’. The traditional tree that we decorate with baubles and other festive paraphernalia. There is something about the smell that this tree releases (that lovely resinous fresh smell) in the house that just says Christmas.

If you buy one with roots then you can keep it from year to year as long as you look after it. For a cut tree it is essential that you sit it in a container that you can keep topped up with water as they lose a surprising amount over the Christmas period and will drop their needles if allowed to dry out. The ready-made metal tree stands with 3 or 4 feet are very useful and have a water reservoir built in. The screws in the neck help to keep the tree steady when screwed in to the trunk. Which is useful if you have a dog or cat that like to tree climb!!

 

Above: Picea abies

 

 

Jobs for December:

 

Terracotta Pots– Now we are getting frosts at night it is a good idea to make sure that your terracotta pots are lifted off the ground with pot feet. This reduces the risk of the pots cracking and flaking.

 

Fruit Pruning– Apples and Pears have dropped their leaves and so now you can see the outline of the branches. When it is not frosty you can prune them to encourage more fruit next year and remove anything that is diseased or rubbing. Try to get a nice even shaped tree with plenty of air movement around the branches which will help to reduce disease attack next year. Always cut to an outward facing bud to ensure you reduce the risk of rubbing branches.

Happy Christmas to all our customers and all those who have visited the garden over the past year. Thank you for your custom and we look forward to seeing you around the Plant Centre next year.
Happy Gardening, PCM Matt

Early Autumn Colour and Late Summer Flowers

It is now meteorological autumn but as I wander around the nursery and garden, I still see some lovely plants that will give a final burst of colour before we rely solely on the autumn colours. Blasts of yellow, orange, red and burgundy to name a few. Some of these plants have been in flower for a month or two now but will keep on until the first frosts.

The garden at The Place for Plants is well known for its spring colour from Rhododendrons to Camellias and Magnolias. However over the past few years we have been planting a more varied selection of plants to increase colour for summer. Some of those include Hydrangeas, Roses and Clematis. This months blog will look at these and other plants to consider for extending that late summer colour.

Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Ayesha’ (on acid soil)

Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Ayesha’– my favourite Hydrangea of them all with its lilac flowers which have a slightly upturned raised edge to each petal. On acid soil (like in the garden at The Place for Plants) it is the most beautiful blue with a slightly washed out centre. However on chalky soils it turns the a delicate pink often with a blue eye (as seen in the picture below). H. ‘Ayesha’ has quite showy blooms and is a good plant for semi-shade. Any soil is fine as long as there is some moisture retention. It makes quite a large plant growing up to 1.8m (6ft) tall.
Like all hydrangeas you can grow it in a pot which will restrict its growth. This makes it much more manageable for all gardens, as long as they have some shade. If you don’t have acid soil then planting it in a pot with a mixture of ericaceous compost and John Innes Number 3 will give you the blue flowers you want.

Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Ayesha’ (on chalk soil)

Euonymus alatus– one of the ‘American spindles’ that is part of the National Collection that we have here in The Place for Plants garden. This plant is ideal for the smaller garden and is great for a slightly more exposed position which will encourage it to turn into its brilliant reds and burgundies when the weather starts to cool at night. E. alatus start to turn at this time of the year and will be in colour for a month or so. These are often the precursor to the glories of the other plants that make autumn so spectacular. It likes a good soil which is well drained.

Euonymus alatus

Euonymus bungeanus ‘Dart’s Pride’– Another member of the National Collection although E. ‘Dart’s Pride’ is taller than E.alatus. This plant has the most beautiful autumn colour, turning with translucent yellows and pinks. The fruits are creamy-green in colour and almost insignificant compared to the autumn colour. It is a difficult plant to obtain so I like to wander around the garden at this time of the year to watch it change over the coming month.

Euonymus bungeanus ‘Dart’s Pride’

Clematis ‘Bill Mackenzie’– A lovely species climber that produces thick lemon-peel like flowers throughout the autumn right through until the first frosts. It is a vigorous plant climbing up to 6m (20ft) in height and is ideal for a slightly exposed position. Clematis ‘Bill Mackenzie’ will grow in any soil as long as it is moist and fertile. It combines well with rambling roses and looks great when grown through larger specimen shrubs such as conifers or hollies.

Clematis ‘Bill Mackenzie’

Verbena bonariensis– A stalwart of the herbaceous and mixed border! Verbena bonariensis is a must for any gardener who wants colour for about 6 months of the year; it just goes on and on. The beautiful open airy habit allows it to be placed in the front or the back of a border and the delicate pale mauve flowers combine nicely with many other plants. Verbena bonariensis likes a warm sunny spot that is free draining and will seed itself everywhere if allowed to. Although I find that it does not like to grow in disturbed soil as this often prevents the seedlings getting established.

Verbena bonariensis

Jobs for September:
The great autumn clean up – this will be an on-going job for the next month or three as autumn approaches. Now is an ideal time to make a leaf mould clamp. First, find an area of the garden where it can be placed and simply knock four posts into the ground. Then put some chicken wire around these to make a fenced in area. Any leaves that you rake up can then be placed in here and in a year or two’s time they will have made the wonder stuff that is leaf mould. This black gold, as organic gardeners often call it, is ideal for adding structure to your soil. Use it as a mulch around woodland plants and this will increase the water holding capacity of your soil and its micro-organism activity as well as improving the structure.

Happy gardening,

PCM, Matt.

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