Whether we continue old traditions, or create new ones, this is a time for celebrating with family and friends.
In the southern hemisphere, instead of a winter wonderland, life is a garden filled with summer sunshine and an abundance of beautiful flowers to decorate our gardens and our homes. What can you look out for at your local garden centre to add colour and vibrancy to your home this holiday?
- At this busy time of year fill bare spots in containers and flowerbeds with 'instant' pots of flowering annuals from the garden centre.
- Mulch shrubs and trees with bark chips so that they will need less watering.
- If you have time for nothing else in the garden, at least mow the lawn and trim the edges.
The mophead hydrangea is known as the Christmas flower, because in summer it produces a long-lasting, colourful display of white, pink, blue and mauve flowers.
Lacecap hydrangeas come in similar colours but are much daintier, with flattish heads of fertile flowers surrounded by a ring of ray-florets. Hydrangeas need a position in dappled or filtered shade and a rich moist soil. Pots of hydrangeas with a compact growth habit will give instant colour and a pretty welcome at shady entrances and on patios.
Should you choose a traditional red colour scheme for the festive season, there are many red flowers that cope with our summer heat, among them hibiscus, day lily, gerbera, pelargonium, verbena, gazania, salvia and petunia. Red bedding begonias or New Guinea impatiens would be a good choice for semi-shade, as would fuchsias with red and white bells. Decorate the patio with Mandevilla Sundaville 'Red' trained on a trellis, and pots of red patio roses, gerbera, anthuriums and pelargoniums.
New Guinea Impatiens
This is the time of year when we entertain outdoors, so add to the enjoyment of sitting outside with a touch of zing in adjoining beds and containers by filling them with bright orange nasturtiums and bold yellow marigolds, spicy red chillies and peppers, frilly red and green lettuce, bright green basil, and Swiss chard 'Bright Lights' with stems of yellow, pink, orange and red.
Instead of choosing a conventional fir tree, why not create a new one by choosing an indigenous tree? A yellowwood tree (Podocarpus henkelii) with glossy drooping foliage, a Gardenia thunbergia with rigid branches and glossy green leaves, or a wild olive (Olea europaea subsp. africana) with silver-grey foliage would all be suitable. They can be decorated with seedpods, small pinecones, posies of dried flowers and African beadwork. The dry stems of an aloe in a vertical metal container would fit in with a contemporary Christmas theme.
A favourite plant for decorating the home at this time of this year is the poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima). It originates from Central America and tropical Mexico where it is known by its Spanish name flor de nochebuena or 'flower of Christmas Eve'. Other plants ideal for decking the festive halls are hippeastrum (commonly called amaryllis), with its brightly coloured, showy blooms, ivy, which is great for table decor, and holly, which can be hung around doors and windows.
For something a little different, decorate the Christmas or buffet table with small pots planted with red begonias, or let tiny pots of variegated thyme hold place names of guests. These can be given as gifts when the guests leave.
Instead of the traditional Christmas stocking, use gumboots, straw baskets or a watering can. Wrap secateurs, gardening gloves, seed packets and a trowel in a tea towel reflecting a gardening motif, or in a box covered with a garden theme gift-wrap paper. A rain gauge to accurately measure the amount of rain is a useful present, as is a hedgehog foot scraper for muddy shoes, or a basket filled with sunscreen, organic soap, hand lotion and gardening gloves.
For the bird enthusiast, nesting boxes or sisal nesting logs that can be attached high up in a tree where birds will be safe and sheltered from rain, birdbaths and feeding tables would be welcome.