Camellia sasanqua 'Crimson King'

Plants for December

Tom Brown rounds off the year with a selection of plants for December that offer both colour and texture from a bright early flowering camellia to a pale Christmas rose and a ghostly willow Photographs Jason Ingram

1

Lunaria rediviva

Lunaria rediviva
© Jason Ingram

In late spring and early summer this perennial honesty has white flowers with hints of lilac above dark-green, finely toothed leaves. During December, these elliptical seedheads –which always remind me of tiny pieces of hanging tracing paper – appear, looking stunning when backlit by the winter sunshine. This is a plant that is best-placed at the rear of a border, so that once your perennials have died down you can enjoy these seedheads and find a new appreciation of honesty. AGM.

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Height 60-90cm.
Origin Europe.
Conditions Fertile, well-drained soil; full sun or partial shade.
Hardiness RHS H5, USDA 5a-8b.
Season of interest Flowering in May and June with glorious seedheads in winter.


2

Camellia sasanqua ‘Crimson King’

Camellia sasanqua 'Crimson King'
© Jason Ingram

An early flowering species of camellia that always brings me a tremendous amount of joy. Flowering well before the thrust of camellia blooms appear, its single, crimson-red flowers have a simplicity that also lends itself to many different planting styles and schemes.  It’s a large shrub that benefits from a sheltered position, and if your garden is in an exposed and colder climate, try growing this plant in a container, but if you do make sure that it doesn’t dry out during the summer for a strong flowering performance. AGM.

Height 2.5-4m.
Origin Garden origin (species from Japan).
Conditions Moisture-retentive, acidic, fertile and free-draining soil; partial shade.
Hardiness RHS H4, USDA 8a-9b.
Season of interest Autumn and winter.


3

Panicum virgatum ‘Kupferhirse’

Panicum virgatum 'Kupferhirse'
© Jason Ingram

Perhaps not the first grass many look to for winter interest, preferring instead sedges with their evergreen foliage, but a well-sited and floriferous panicum takes some beating at this time of year. In summer it adds texture and delicacy to a border, but as the foliage begins to dry and becomes brittle, its tones are exquisite. I especially love it on those crisp, sunny December days when the light plays with the rippling foliage and the drops of moisture that collect on spent seedheads.

Height 90cm-1.2m.
Origin Garden origin (species from North America).
Conditions Free-draining, moisture-retentive soil; full sun.
Hardiness RHS H5, USDA 5a-9b. Season of interest Late summer into the winter.


4

Iris unguicularis ‘Mary Barnard’

Iris unguicularis 'Mary Barnard'
© Jason Ingram

I’m always amazed at how tolerant of incredibly poor and sun-baked positions this species of iris can be. Often, they hug walls and enjoy a roasting during the summer and then reward us in winter with large, violet flowers that have contrasting yellow signals. Flowering in December isn’t without its challenges, but by planting against a sunny wall, you reduce the impact of the hard frosts, which can damage the freshly emerged flowers. If flowers are hit by the frost, many more soon appear. AGM.

Height 50cm.
Origin Garden origin (species from eastern Mediterranean and North Africa).
Conditions Free-draining soil; a sheltered position in full sun.
Hardiness RHS H5.
Season of interest December – February.


5

Betula albosinensis ‘Bowling Green’

Betula albosinensis 'Bowling Green'
© Jason Ingram

If you get a chance to visit the Winter Garden at Hillier’s Arboretum in Hampshire look out for one of the most stunning specimens of this tree, which is underplanted with a carpet of Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Kokuryu’. As the bark peels away from the white trunk of this birch it takes on a cinnamon colouration that glows in the winter light. Birch work very well in all sizes of garden, their canopies aren’t dense so they’re not too dominant, and so offer plenty of room for varied underplanting around the base.

Height 12-15m.
Origin Garden origin (species from Western China).
Conditions Moist but well-drained soil; full sun or partial shade.
Hardiness RHS H7, USDA 6a-8b.
Season of interest November – March.

6

Helleborus x ballardiae HGC Snow Dance (= ‘Coseh 800’)

Helleborus x ballardiae 'Snow Dance'
© Jason Ingram

Named after the hellebore breeder Helen Ballard, this is a very exciting group of hellebores noted for their early, large and more upturned, showy flowers. They’re a cross between H. niger and H. lividus, both of which are worth looking at in their own right. H. lividus, which can flower from December until April, is more of a challenge to grow but has exquisite, marbled foliage that makes an attractive contribution to this more robust group of hybrids.

Height 50cm.
Origin Garden origin.
Conditions Well-drained, fertile soil; partial shade.
Hardiness RHS H7, USDA 4a-9b.
Season of interest Flowering from December until spring.


7

Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Robert’

Hamamelis x intermedia 'Robert'
© Jason Ingram

This hybrid group of witch hazels is a cross between the showier Hamamelis japonica (the Japanese species) and Hamamelis mollis (the fragrant Chinese witch hazel). ‘Robert’ is a scented cultivar that can come into flower as early as December. Its apricot petals have a subtlety that is even more rewarding when discovered during the winter months. Best placed near to a path so you can easily enjoy the subtle flowers and once the autumn colour has faded, you can remove some of the spent leaves to expose those precious flowers. AGM.

Height 2.5-4m.
Origin Garden hybrid.
Conditions Moist but well-drained, fertile soil; partial shade.
Hardiness RHS H5, USDA 5a-8b.
Season of interest December – February.

8

Salix irrorata

Salix irrorata
© Jason Ingram

This is a fast and strong-growing willow that stands out from the fiery crowd thanks to its blue-white stem. As the season continues, wonderfully soft and tactile catkins appear on the stems before the foliage emerges in the spring. Like most shrubs grown for stem colour, a hard prune when the leaves appear will ensure the strongest colour the following winter. To get the most impact from the stems, try to site this willow in the foreground of a dark, evergreen foil, as you’ll find the shrubs are illuminated with a dark background, making their impact all the more powerful. AGM.

Height 1.5-2.5m.
Origin Southwest USA.
Conditions Moisture-retentive, fertile soil; full sun.
Hardiness RHS H5.
Season of interest November – March.

 


9

Heuchera sanguinea ‘Geisha’s Fan’

Heuchera sanguinea 'Geisha's Fan'
© Jason Ingram

A robust cultivar with mounds of purple-and-grey marbled foliage, persisting well into the winter. Best for the front of a border or path edge, they also work well underplanted with bulbs such as snowdrops and species narcissi. Heucheras also make superb subjects for groundcover, especially alongside hellebores and cyclamen. If grown in containers, keep them on the dry side in the winter to deter vine weevils, which can find them irresistible.

Height 50cm.
Origin Garden origin (species from western usa).
Conditions Fertile, free-draining soil; partial shade.
Hardiness RHS H6, USDA 3a-8b.
Season of interest Flowering from May with foliage interest throughout the year.

10

Stachyurus praecox var. matsuzakii ‘Issai’

Stachyurus praecox var Matsuzakii 'issai'
© Jason Ingram
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Although, this deciduous shrub is extremely striking in early spring when it flowers, I was most taken with the subtle caramel tones of this form’s autumn foliage that lasted into December. It will flourish under the protection of a light tree canopy, but will also do well planted against a south- or west-facing wall. The flowering buds appear in midwinter and then swell and become more pronounced as the weeks go by, building the anticipation before they finally flourish in March and April.

Height 2.5-4m.
Origin Garden origin (species from Japan).
Conditions Fertile, well-drained soil; a sheltered position.
Hardiness RHS H5, USDA 6a-8b.
Season of interest Autumn foliage and flowering in early spring.