If you pruned your roses back after their spring spectacular, and fed and watered them, you should have roses just when you want them, for visitors at Christmas. But by midsummer the abundance of banksias and spring bulbs have withered. So what are reliable bloomers for Christmas gardens and vases?
Our Christmas ‘vase flowers’ are gladioli, old fashioned red and yellow ones, grown way back down the garden just for picking over the Christmas period, where the bare leaves won’t spoil the beauty of the garden. Gladdies are gloriously reliable and, as long as you stick to one or two colours and don’t go all Dame Edna garish, elegant indoors.
Agapanthus are also stunning at Christmas. I grow aggies around our trees and shrubs, to stop overeager mowers damaging them. (This means you, darling. Though I do appreciate all the mowing.) While old varieties of agapanthus set lots of seed and could become weeds, the news ones aren’t supposed to, and flower for longer. But if baby agapanthus start sprouting in your garden, haul the lot out.
Dahlias are another ‘doer’, especially bambino dahlias, small manageable ones that grow to about 60 cm and don’t need staking. They bloom earlier than the big bushed ones, with a constant display off flowers right through summer and autumn. Well-fed and -watered dahlias bloom earlier and more abundantly, so tend yours well for the best Christmas display. Ours are red and yellow (you may see a pattern here), wonderfully Christmas bright.
Our garden has Christmas ‘snow’ of native Bursaria spinosa, which the birds love to nest in, too. It forms lovely lichened stem shapes as it ages, and the flowers smell of honey all Christmas. Other Christmas stunners include red Jacobean lily, pink and white butterfly like gaura, hanging baskets of fuchsias, or the enormous orangey-yellow blooms of silky oak (Grevillea robusta).
There are some terrific kangaroo paws on the market now in a wonderful range of colours – yellow, red, orange, green, pink and black and even lavender (although I have yet to be persuaded that black was a good idea). The tall varieties make striking and elegant cut flowers as well as decorative garden plants. They are often sold as landscaping plants – one of those descriptions that I don’t understand. What do they think we are doing with all the other garden plants we buy? Munching them at a barbeque?
Pick kangaroo paw stems when the flowers are just starting to open and they will last for a week or more indoors if you keep the water fresh and available.
Red kangaroo paws combined with white Shasta daisies (always reliable bloomers at this time of the year) and some green foliage make a stunning Christmas flower display. White agapanthus with Christmas bush, red roses, eucalyptus leaves and some babies’ breath are even more glorious.
Other reliable bloomers that can usually be relied upon to provide cut flowers at Christmas time are alstromeria, cone flowers (Echinacea spp), gerberas (the hardier garden varieties that are smaller and sturdier and don’t require wiring) and the occasional flower spike on your grevilleas (some of which last remarkably well in a vase – it’s a matter of trying them out until you work out which ones last). Christmas can be a challenging time to put together a good floral display but with a bit of forethought it can be done.
But the most colourful garden colour will probably come from annuals, the ones you hopefully planted a month or two ago, from petunias to California poppies, salvias and dozens more choices. If you didn’t, treat yourself to a couple of hanging baskets filled with colour. There are always plenty to choose from at Christmas, for yourself or to give to friends.
As well as the more familiar petunias there are other plants that look fabulous in pots, baskets or garden beds and that will flower endlessly through spring, summer and into autumn. The little Calibrachoa hybrids that are available in most good nurseries come in a huge range of colours and are marketed under a number of different trade names – Million Bells, Callies, Superbells etc. But they are all remarkably trouble free, generous plants that cover themselves with flowers that are not knocked around by wind or rain like many of the bigger flowered petunias are. With a post-winter haircut and general tidy up they’ll go on to produce another fabulous display of bright or delicately coloured flowers.
If you are looking for potted indoor colour, try Christmas poinsettias. Poinsettias naturally bloom in late winter, but pots of bright bloomers are carefully cultivated for Christmas. Also look for the improved NSW Christmas bush, with its bright red calyxes (they look like red flowers, but aren’t – and because they aren’t petals they last really well either on the tree or in a vase). They can be enjoyed in pots indoors over Christmas, then planted out into the garden.
And if you are looking for a potted gift, you can’t go past a gorgeous lush indoor fern, one that says ‘cool and green’ every time you glance at it. December is too hot – and too full – to have time to plant much in the garden. But a potted fern just needs watering and admiring. And as long as you don’t overfeed it, and keep it moist, it will go on being gorgeous for many Christmases to come.