WINTER GEMS: Time to source the burgeoning treasures that Christmas brings
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WINTER GEMS: Time to source the burgeoning treasures that Christmas brings

THE poet Walt Whitman once said that “there’s a beauty in monotony”.

I’m very much on his side, for most of this wonderful hobby of ours is about repeated actions: rituals, preparations, the obeisance to the time of year, waiting for this, that, and the other, even incessant reminders on this page.

One example of repetition occurs on the approach to Christmas every year. I visit as many garden centres as possible with the intention of picking up a burgeoning treasure or two.

Luck, it seems, is always on my side, for although I am impressed by the many winter-flowering plants that defy the elements at this festive time, what I admire most (and seek for purchase) are the newer varieties of witch hazel.

There is nothing shy, slow, or hesitant about the flowering of a witch hazel.

However unpleasant the weather might be, when you happen to see one you suddenly notice that their whole structure, every twig, and naked branch is sporting strange whimsical flowers like nothing else in the whole plant kingdom.

Little shreds of twisted golden ribbon bunched together with crimson at the centre peep out from every short growth.

And if that's not enough to tempt the first pollinating insects, the witch hazel comes endowed with a perfume strong enough to cast a spell.

Along with these new hazel introductions there’s another wonderful garden plant worth sourcing for its tiny, evergreen leaves and miniature blooms, both of which defy the dark days of winter.

I refer now to the evergreen fuchsia called bacillarus.

It blooms from mid-spring but the sight of its tiny pink flowers and minuscule leaves decked out among its thin, wiry stems never fail to catch the eye.

A secondary joy is the appealing colour of its dainty leaves; a fresh vivid green which sets off the flowers in a bright and spring-like way.

It may look delicate and tender but this natural hybrid from Mexico is totally hardy and can withstand temperatures down as low as minus eight degrees centigrade.

The last time we had a severe cold spell (minus eight with prolonged ice and snow) this plant ‘disappeared’ but it came back good as ever from below ground when conditions improved.

Whilst bacillarus is seldom without some open blooms and a scattering of prominent buds, it tends to flower more profusely as autumn and winter advances, for the cool, damp conditions seem to suit its modest demands.

As well, the Capsid bug which feeds on the growing tips of most summer fuchsias causing blindness and lack of blooms are gone by October.

It will blend easily with others in the border and need little attention except perhaps the need to cut it back now and again to shape and tidy its appearance.