December began with low temperatures bringing the first taste of winter, writes Jackie Power…
Conditions often get milder towards Christmas as rain and south westerly winds move in. However, weather patterns are more unpredictable and forecasts seem less reliable.
Bright, cold sunny days are ideal for working in the garden. Currently, the ground is water logged and so it’s not possible to do much digging or planting this month. Raking leaves, tidying and pruning fruit and other deciduous trees are key tasks that can be done.
This year’s winter Solstice fell on December 21st the astronomical start of winter and shortest day – when the northern hemisphere is farthest away from the sun. Once Solstice is passed – daylight hours will gradually begin to lengthen.
There are three plants, steeped in folklore and mystery, which are the focus of the festive season – Holly, Ivy and Mistletoe.
Mistletoe is the traditional plant of midwinter with significance at Christmas. It bears white berries around the winter Solstice and is an ancient symbol of immortality. This mysterious plant grows as an evergreen parasitic shrub and can appear on almost any deciduous tree but seems to prefer oak and old apple trees. Mistletoe is a shrub that chooses where it wants to grow – it is not easy to propagate.
Ivy is a hardy, vigorous evergreen climber with an interesting folklore history. The ancients used the leaves for the poet’s crown and it is a symbol of fidelity. This plant is dedicated to Bacchus (Greek God of wine). Ivy can live for hundreds of years and reach tree like proportions with tough woody stems resembling branches. The custom of decorating the house with Ivy dates back to pagan times.
Holly has year-round interest and is usually seen as a large shrub – but over time it will grow into a handsome tree; with distinctive shiny dark evergreen leaves, small white flowers (in May) and blood red berries in winter. Holly grows well in shady areas – and the birds love it.
Folklore associated with Holly predates Roman times, but it is known that the Romans gave branches of Holly to family and friends during the Festival of Saturnalia – a holiday celebrated at winter Solstice around the third week in December. Holly is traditionally meant to bring protection and good luck. The Druids believe that Holly brings foresight in times of hardship and sacrifice – and is a sign of better times to come. ‘Deck the halls with boughs of Holly’
Season’s Greetings and Happy Gardening!