Deck The Halls With Homegrown Holly
Country Life UK|November 25, 2020
Even on the darkest days, there is always fresh foliage to pick, but plant with winter in mind and you can adorn your house with scented flowers, gleaming leaves and bright berries, says Val Bourne
Val Bourne
IN the still, cold days of winter, scent lingers, seemingly enriched by the thin air so that it hangs heavy with exoticism. None more so than the perfume produced by the small waxy blooms of Viburnum x bodnantense Dawn, which are as full of hope and promise as the bare, grey branches are not. A few stems snipped with secateurs and brought indoors will scent every inch of a room, a sleigh ride away from a cellophane-wrapped supermarket bouquet. With a little forethought, it’s quite possible to have all the Christmas decorations one could wish for growing in the garden.

Viburnum x bodnantense Dawn is a large shrub for a garden edge and begins to produce its hyacinth-scented flowers in November, which makes it invaluable. In clement years, it will still be in flower at Christmas and cutting won’t damageit at all. The earliest witch hazel is Hamamelis x intermedia Advent and, as long as you have good, neutral soil, witch hazels will grow well after a slow start. Their citrus and marmalade-coloured spidery flowers are completely unaffected by frost and the freesia scented Pallida is particularly lovely. Daphne bholua Jacqueline Postill is another winter flowerer, although it can be risky to cut, so is best planted close to the house, where you can smell it as you walk past.

Winter honeysuckle, Lonicera x purpusii Winter Beauty, is good for picking, with its ivory-white pendant flowers, and wintersweet, Chimonanthus praecox, has highly fragrant, translucent yellow flowers with a dash of tomato-red. As the latter can be badly damaged by cold weather, it is generally best grown in the lee of a wall.

Evergreen foliage boosts the Green Man in us all and the most useful of all is holly. Prickly English holly, Ilex aquifolium needs careful handling. Its spiny tips are as sharp as an eagle’s talon, hence the name, after the Latin for the bird. For berries, search for a female clone and leave it unclipped. The best forms are dioecious, with male and female flowers borne on separate plants. If you need a male pollinator, the hardy, modestly sized New York male holly, Ilex x meserveae Blue Prince, will service a harem of ladies.

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